Sad news: A stalwart supporter of the Natatorium and one of Hawai’i’s leading activists on veterans’ issues has died.
Fred W. Ballard, who suffered from pancreatic cancer, passed away on Sunday, April 17. He was 72.Fred served from 1995 until his death as a board member of the Friends of the Natatorium. He was our longtime board secretary. He was a leader and a constant source of strength to us in the fight for the preservation and restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium, the official memorial to more than 10,000 soldiers and sailors from Hawai’i who served in World War I.
“Fred Ballard truly loved Hawai’i and was cut from the same cloth as those we think of as ‘the Greatest Generation,’” said Peter Apo, president of the Friends and a trustee of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “He was a man of values, character and commitments. And he exhibited this over the 16 years he dedicated to restoring the War Memorial Natatorium. I will really miss him and his aloha spirit.”
At 6-foot-7, Fred was a giant with an oversized heart to match. Even as his health declined, he remained cheerful and optimistic. He relished visits from good friends and the simplest things: a gift, for instance, of sourdough bread from his native California.
“Fred Ballard was my idol and everything I aspire to be: quiet, determined, hard-working, and always, always in good humor,” said the Friends’ vice president, Donna L. Ching. “In 15 years, the only time I ever saw a visible glimmer of anger was last year, in a mayor’s Natatorium Task Force meeting, when someone made a dismissive remark about the significance of memorials. Fred’s face tightened, and he tersely and calmly replied, ‘The Natatorium is a solemn commitment to the memory of those who served to protect your freedom and our nation.’
“He said nothing else,” Ching said. “He didn’t have to.”
Fred, who was a Vietnam veteran, worked — even during his final illness — as a public affairs officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Outside the office, he was a longtime activist on veterans’ issues. He was secretary of the Oahu Veterans Council for the last 10 years of his life, instrumental — among many other accomplishments — in the establishment and construction of the Oahu Veterans Center. Knowing that he had declined further treatment for his cancer, more than 200 friends, admirers and dignitaries — including Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle — joined him there Feb. 13 for a luncheon in his honor.
“The word selfless is used too often and too loosely, but selfless is the right word to describe Fred Ballard. He selflessly gave of himself in his service to others,” Abercrombie said. “Fred understood the values of democracy and freedom, so much so that he dedicated his retirement years to the efforts of the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center as well as fighting for veterans’ rights. His contributions will never be forgotten.”
A 22-year Navy man assigned several times to duty stations in Hawai’i, Ballard returned to the state for good in 1992 as executive director of the Fleet Reserve Association Pearl Harbor Branch 46. In 2000, he joined the VA’s Pacific Islands Health Care System, and was responsible for its public affairs work in Hawai’i, American Samoa, Saipan and Guam.
Ballard had enlisted in the Navy Reserve in 1955 and, after high school graduation the following year, reported for two years of active duty that he extended into a career. He was deployed five times to Vietnam, twice on a minesweeper, once on an attack cargo ship and twice on a guided missile destroyer.
He served while on active duty as secretary and treasurer of the Arizona Memorial Museum Foundation, a subcommittee formed by FRA Branch 46. The foundation raised nearly $1 million to help build the first shore-side visitors center for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial.
Later, as a civilian, he was a board member of the Pacific Historical Parks, involved in fundraising for a new Pearl Harbor Visitor Center dedicated last year.
“I don’t know anyone who has devoted more time to the service of others than Fred,” Ching said. “On one hand, I feel cheated because his beautiful life was cut short. On the other, I know that in his 72 years, Fred accomplished more good than most people could in twice the lifetime.”
Fred is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sandra Jo Ballard; a son, John, and his wife, Debra Cotton, of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; a daughter, Cindy, who lives in Honolulu; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. You may leave a message of condolence for them in the comments form below.
Fred and Sandy Ballard had, since 1982, been active volunteers on the mainland and in Hawai’i with Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a movement of the Roman Catholic Church to bind couples together and strengthen marriages. They served as a prayer vigil “Angel Couple” and edited and published the Aloha Spirit newsletter for years.
A memorial mass will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, at Aliamanu Military Reservation Chapel; visitation with the family will begin at 3 p.m.. Full military honors will be accorded at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl on Thursday, April 28, at 3 p.m. Fred’s ashes will be scattered off the U.S.S. Utah in a private ceremony at a later date.
“The Friends of the Natatorium bid fondest mahalo and aloha to one of their greatest,” Ching said. “God is surely welcoming his good and faithful servant home.”