Obituary: The Legacy of 103-Year-Old Errie Ball

Obituary Cartoon By Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

One of the funniest pieces of humor ever performed in America, second only to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First,” in my opinion, was a piece by Alan King. Appearing in a nightclub in Las Vegas, he has in his jacket pockets five obituaries ripped out of newspapers and announces that he is sick and tired of reading about men who have gotten very old and died, yet have been survived by their wives. No matter what, women are determined to live longer than their men.

To prove it, he wanders out into the crowd, stopping here and there to talk to someone at one of the tables, invariably a well-dressed woman, and after asking her name and where she is from, he takes an obituary clipping out of a pocket and asks her to read it aloud.

“Thomas Farnworth died in his home in San Diego last Thursday. He was a racing car driver, injured in a crash in Indianapolis and in the hospital for nine weeks who recovered enough to win not only in Indianapolis the next year, but Daytona and at Monaco in the year after that. He was 93 and is survived by his wife.”

Another woman reads a second.

“Frank Wilkinson died in his apartment in New York on Monday. A veteran of World War II, he was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, shot down in the Pacific over Guadalcanal and spent two years in a Japanese concentration camp. Late in life he worked as a demolitions expert. He died at 99 and is survived by his wife.”

As the women read these obituaries, which appear to be real, they speak in a more and more tentative and apologetic matter—King is MAKING them read these—and King gets more and more outraged and emotional. Each man who died is older than the one before. Each has lived through more increasingly dangerous and heroic circumstances than the one before. All have been survived by their wives.

“One hundred and four years old when he died,” King shouts, shaking an index finger and saying each word very slowly, one after the other. “This is a man who rescued seven people trapped in a mine shaft, then got stuck himself for five weeks. Survived by his wife.”

On Wednesday, the death of Errie Ball appeared in the obituary section of The New York Times. He died at 103 in Stuart, Florida on July 2. I consider his death a tribute to Alan King.

Ball lived a fairly ordinary life and many people today live to be over 100, so why has Ball’s passing been elevated to such importance as to make The New York Times obituary pages? Well, he played golf at the first Masters in Augusta in 1934 and was the last surviving player to have done so. But it doesn’t stop there.

“Ball began the final day in respectable position, 11 off the lead and a stroke behind Bobby Jones,” TheTimes wrote. “Ball was even for the day when his tee shot reached the green on the par 3 third hole. If he could make the 15 foot putt, he would have a birdie—and improve his chances of receiving an invitation to return the next year. He five-putted instead, and his round fell apart. ‘I blew it,’ he once said. ‘Shot 86.’ It was the highest score of the week. He finished the tournament 25 strokes behind the winner, Horton Smith. After that performance, he did not compete again at Augusta for the next 23 years, tied for the longest stretch between appearances.”

And of course, he is survived by his wife.

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