John Allen Ball

Astrophysicist, author, man of eclectic interests

John Ball. (Courtesy photo)

On August 6, 2019, John Allen Ball, 83, died peacefully at his home in Harvard, surrounded by family, of complications resulting from Alzheimer’s disease.

John was born in 1935 in Ravenna, Nebraska. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. After serving two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, Libya, he attended graduate school at Harvard University, earning a doctorate in astrophysics.

From the time he moved to Harvard in 1966, Bare Hill Pond was a favorite haunt of his, swimming there evenings after work, and out on a catamaran sailboat every weekend. He also enjoyed snowshoeing from his home, through woods and orchards, to his work at the radio telescope on Pinnacle Road. Until only a few years ago, he would enjoy walks of 3-4 miles on Harvard roads. Many years back he helped develop classical music programs at the Harvard UU Church. Town meetings were important to him, and as part of the Harvard Cable Committee he helped video tape these meetings.

John worked as a radio astronomer at Harvard University, first at Agassiz Station, the Harvard College Observatory in Harvard, then at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and its radio astronomy station in Fort Davis, Texas. Later John joined MIT’s Haystack Observatory in Westford, where he worked as a research scientist. John also taught astronomy at Worcester State College.

Throughout his career, John published extensively in his field of astrophysics. Other publications include a book, “Algorithms for RPM Calculators” (1978) (a copy given to the Harvard Public Library), and papers, “The Zoo Hypothesis” (1973) and “The Search for Extraterrestrial Life: Recent Developments” (1985).

John was a person of eclectic interests, ranging from civil rights activism to photography, motorcycling to sailing, poetry to classical music. Later he focused on health and nutrition, adopting a vegan diet. He organized a film series on nutrition, shown on the local cable station.

John is survived by his wife of 64 years, Audrey Roth Ball; daughters Fifine, Desirée, and Laurie; son Kevin (Teresa Gudger); nephew Michael Ball (Beth); grandchildren Justin Walsh, Daniel Walsh, Jessica Anderson (Duke), Audrey Lewis, Lindsey Champion (Corey), and Samantha Gudger; and great-grandchildren Brookelan Heck and Tucker Ray Champion. A memorial service for John will be held on a date to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his name may be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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