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He was well-known for being a ‘person of interest’ after revealing the development of the Pine Gap US base in the Northern Territory in 1966 and during the Cold War advised US President Jimmy Carter against nuclear strikes against Soviet targets.
But at the memorial service, his family, friends and colleagues gathered to remember his personal anecdotes and attributes including his disdain for wearing neck ties, how he came to grow an iconic rat’s tail, and the fact that he could finish a two litre tub of ice cream in one sitting.
Professor Ball’s daughter Katie recalled the time that he unknowingly met Spice Girls star Victoria Beckham at a small shop in Thailand. She told of how the two of them struck up a conversation that included the lady’s husband being a professional football player.
“Dad said she became quite frustrated by him not knowing her association with the music group and her husband and she angrily wrote her name on a piece of paper and told him to Google her,” she said.
In recalling the story, her father told her “I still don’t know what it is she achieved in life, and so not being sure, I gave her my business card and told her to Google me.”
She said her dad was once described by the media as the man who saved the world.
“But to us, our dad was our world.”
During the memorial service Chancellor Professor Gareth Evans AC QC read out a tribute from Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne, in which she referred to Professor Ball as a “once in a generation” expert, especially in providing advice to the Carter Administration which helped avoid nuclear war.
“Des Ball did more to advance that objective than any Australian politician has ever done,” Professor Evans said.
At the earlier tree planting, Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt AC said Professor Ball loved the campus and the trees and it was befitting his ashes be buried at the base of the tree on the campus that he spent 40 years of his life at.
“We hope that the tree planted on this special spot today right between the Chancelry and the Coombs building marks a further stage in our deep relationship with Des and the Ball family,” he said.
“As this beautiful native tree grows, so will our affection be for Des and for his life here at this university. I can promise you all that his work will continue. This tree will symbolise his enduring legacy for generations to come.”