Dr. Barbara Ball – Bermuda’s Lady of Labour

It was with great sadness that I learned of Dr. Ball’s passing. She was one of the greatest Bermudians of our modern era, and her achievements and work are truly inspiring. There are plenty of articles now online detailing aspects of her life, and I hope that both the current generation and the next generations are able to learn more about this remarkable lady. If only a handful of people are inspired by her story, then our people will be in good hands for the future.

In short, Dr. Ball was born in the segregation era, and attended the (still) prestigious Bermuda High School for Girls, which at that time was the female equivalent (and still is really) for that great institution of the White oligarchy (and my alma mater) Saltus Grammar School. Needless to say, at that time both schools were exclusively White institutions. Dr. Ball eventually became the first Bermudian female doctor, and, on her return to Bermuda, gained fame (and notoriety) for opening a non-segregated medical practice. Possessing a strong sense of justice, and increasingly alienated from White Bermuda, she became ever more involved in both the anti-segregation movement and the labour movement. She became the General Secretary of the Bermuda Industrial Union, and in 1968 was elected to Parliament (for Pembroke East) as a member of the Progressive Labour Party, and was subsequently re-elected in 1972.

There is much, much more to talk about Dr. Ball, her achievements (such as in Judo!) and her contributions to fashioning modern Bermuda. It is not my intention however to write her biography here. Brother Ottiwell Simmons, who worked closely with Dr. Ball in the Labour movement, has already done a good deal of that with his book on her. Also, in the coming days, the various media will be contributing greatly to that effect.

What I want to do instead is talk about my own memories and reflections on Dr. Ball.

As perhaps the most prominent White Bermudian to be identified with the labour movement and the fight against segregation – and oligarchism in general – it is perhaps unsurprising that I found Dr. Ball as an inspiring role-model. By the time I was politically conscious however, Dr. Ball had long since retired from active involvement in the labour movement. Indeed, I did not knowingly meet her until around 2003, at which time age had already taken its toll on her. Nonetheless, and despite the various problems that beset her in her advanced age, in my conversations with her, at time assisted by her dedicated carer, she revealed a still sharp wit and keen interest in the struggle for social and economic justice.

I cannot say I met her as often as I would have liked, and it is always the case that when someone like Dr. Ball passes one realises the loss and wishes one had spent more time interacting with the person. In the few times I had the honour to speak with Dr. Ball we discussed some aspects of her life, the current situation of the PLP and Bermuda’s politics generally, and various aspects of Christian theology.

Dr. Ball was very much what I consider a ‘true’ Christian. She was a Christian socialist, an advocate of liberation theology, and introduced me to this school of thought, of which I was previously unaware. Although I myself am an atheist, I found her thoughts on Christian theology very inspiring and I continue to learn more and more about Christian socialism and liberation theology as a direct result of Dr. Ball.

I don’t think it is the time or the place to discuss her comments on the PLP post-1998. All I will say is that she was both immensely proud of the 1998 election and also quite able to critique certain tendencies that she saw within the Party. She did not, however, have any desire to make public her critiques, and, while I disagree with that approach (as I think constructive criticism is a key method to help reduce the degeneration of the movement), I can understand and respect her position.

I only once explicitly asked her for advice on Party tactics/strategy in relation to my own disillussionment with the Labour movement which I saw as having become removed from its founding principles of social and economic justice and resolute opposition to oligarchism. I cannot remember her exact words, but it went something like ‘The people; the people are the key. If the people are with you then nothing can stand against you. The people must decide what they want; you must go to the people and speak with them‘. I took her words as a resolute committment to the grassroots and a recognition that nothing can be done without the passive or active support of the people (either in the sense of the Party’s rank and file or the general citizenry).

In those words she was not passing any particular judgement, but she did, I think try to show me the way, an indication that the task should be consciousness raising and not top-down ‘leading’, and I have tried to put that idea into practice. In a small way this blog attempts to contribute to consciousness raising, although I am under no illussions as to the limitations of this form of media.

Dr. Ball was one of our greatest representatives in the struggle for social and economic justice. The struggle is far from won however, despite some superficial (yet important) victories. The struggle continues, and the baton is being passed from the old radicals to the new. Whether we shall see the likes of such a remarkable individual, or that great generation of radicals of whom there are too few left, is something I often wonder about. All I know is that we must continue the struggle, and that while Dr. Ball, and others of her great generation, are passing, we honour them in continuing the fight against injustice and oligarchy everywhere.

There are already some media articles and announcements concerning Dr. Ball, and I list some of them below:

The PLP has a short article/biography of her.

The Royal Gazette has a mention about Parliament observing her passing.

Bernews has a few posts up, including videos from the BIU.

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One thought on “Dr. Barbara Ball – Bermuda’s Lady of Labour

  1. Pingback: Bermuda: Dr. Ball Passes On · Global Voices

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