Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

Across many decades, James Ball has been a go-to person for local folks facing challenging circumstances, be they tearing down an old building, felling an unwanted tree, or cleaning a well, to name but a few. James is “up” on many things, and he has tremendous skillsets in a wide span of interests.

Many years ago, I had a dug well that experts told me was drying up, having failed to fill with water. They informed me that my only course was to have a new artesian well dug to replace it. A friend spoke to James about my dilemma, and he stopped to ask if he could inspect the well. I readily agreed, and down he went. He lowered himself by bracing the well opening with two four-by-fours, to which he tied a heavy rope, the other end of which he fastened to his waist. 

He called up to me that he thought the well needed only a good cleaning, and he proceeded to work his magic. As he cut the intruding root growth, the water commenced to flow back from several veins. By the time he finished, the well was almost full once again. 

On another occasion he topped a tree, by himself no less, again showing the breadth of his ability. On still another, he removed a century-old chimney that could no longer be used for heating, saving each brick, one by one as he removed it, for reuse on the façade of its replacement. 

For many individuals, the most lasting memory of James’ numerous impressive deeds would be one unique to him. On that occasion, he tried heroically to save a child’s life in the yard of a house two miles from James’ home. One bright, sunny morning, word spread rapidly that a small child had fallen into an open well. Rescue units arrived promptly and began the process of discerning how to proceed to try to save her.

One of those present called James from the family’s home. Fortunately, he was at home, as those were the days before cell phones, and he came immediately. Again, as he had done at our well, he set up his operation, and proceeded to lower himself down into the dark extremity.

Sadly, when he reached the little girl, he found that she had not survived the fall. He brought her to the surface where paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive her. James downplayed his role that day, deeply regretting that he had not been able to save the child’s life. For his effort, the community rightly hailed him as a hero, an accolade that he modestly eschewed.

James is undaunted in taking on challenges. He undertook razing a multistory frame department store in Warsaw, which for many Northern Neck residents in my childhood had been a shopper’s delight, with his usual self-assurance, leaving the lot smooth and clean.

He also is fascinated by things that have survived from bygone eras. The focal point in his yard is a very large, venerable iron anchor from a bygone menhaden boat, and he has other interesting pieces of yard art as well.

Tomorrow James will become a nonagenarian. He has demonstrated that hard work can contribute to longevity, and good health to boot. Happy Birthday, James!