Bargees Celebrate the Life of Francis Ballard

By Charles Meredith

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Francis Ballard would have been pleased with the gathering. Fifty rowers turned out to remember our wonderful member…on the Schuylkill River and in the Lilacs room on Saturday, November 15, 2014.

Andy Rouse and Charlie Meredith were the hosts.

Rowers met at 7:15 and organized into eights, quads, doubles and singles for a row to the Angels. Captain Alex Cook took a UBC launch with Mighty Betsy Meredith on board. She carried Francis’ ashes.

At the Angels MB cast the ashes into the river that Francis loved.

The rowers returned to UBC and the champagne breakfast began. Thanks to the Lilac Wardens, Maria McDevitt and Alan Robinson, plus chefs Margaret Meigs and Paul Laskow, everyone enjoyed the delicious breakfast dishes and champagne.

President Howard Greenberg introduced the program and asked a quartet to sing “Aura Lee,” one of Francis’ favorite songs. Each spring, Francis would ask members of his Orpheus Club to row to the Columbia Railroad Bridge and sing “Aura Lee” under one of its arches. You can imagine the startled looks we received from the hundreds of rowers who heard us singing in four-part harmony in the early morning darkness.

“Aura Lee” was a famous Civil War song, which Francis’ widow, Jane Ballard, also loved. Jane was from Richmond, Virginia and reminded us that in the South, the Civil War is still known as the “War of Northern Aggression!” Actually, “Aura Lee” was popular with soldiers from each side. It was good to have Jane with us for the morning.

Mike Thompson organized the quartet with three members from the Orpheus Club: Mike (Thompson), Steve Ujifusa, and Alfred Goodrich (a candidate for UBC membership), plus Charlie Meredith (a non Orpheus member). The quartet sang the first verse and because there were copies available, everyone joined in for the second verse. It was fun to hear the enthusiastic singing.

In paying a special tribute to Jane Ballard, President Greenberg noted that UBC brought men and women of all ages together. Several in the room were in their 20’s; one approaching 90 and all ages in between.

The event reminded several of us of a Quaker meeting. At least 20 had a story to tell about Francis. He joined UBC in the early 1980’s and continued rowing until 2012. He was well into his 80’s when he left rowing forever. Many will think of Francis as the common denominator for the Barge Club.

The meeting adjourned about eleven.