Monte Ball performs The Lion Hunt at the Final Campfire, circa 1985

Montague G. Ball, Jr. November 18, 1938 – January 17, 2024

It is with sadness and a deep well of gratitude that we bid Montague G. Ball, Jr. a final farewell.  Monte died in hospital near his home in Chiang Mai, Thailand after a short illness.  Monte’s association with Pine Island Camp spanned nearly 70 years.  Even among the myriad colorful, talented, interesting characters who make up PIC alumni, Monte was unique.  He was a skilled naval officer, a master teacher, an unparalleled storyteller, and an extraordinary leader.

Monte graduated from the Choate School and then from the University of Virginia.  While a student at UVA, Monte worked with the YMCA Boy’s Club in Beaumont, VA, and upon the recommendation of Jim Breeden’s middle school teacher recruited Jim to help him with the camping trips.  This led to Monte’s eventually recruiting Jim to become a counselor at Pine Island.  Jim went on to be Pine Island’s assistant director for Jun Swan and to become head of Pine Island’s first board of directors.

Monte first came to Pine Island in 1958, when he was recruited by UVA classmate Monroe Baldwin to teach sailing, and was a counselor for two years.  In 1963 Monte joined the U.S. Navy in which he served for six years, first on the USS Rankin and then on the USS Springfield, the flagship of the 6th Fleet, homeported in Villefranche-sur-Mer in the Mediterranean.  Shipmate and lifelong friend Barry Lindquist met Monte in 1965 when he first reported for duty on the Springfield.  Monte was a deck officer, and, among other duties was in charge of one of the ship’s most hazardous activities, nighttime refueling at sea.  Less hazardous duty was operating the admiral’s barge, which provided Monte with the opportunity to give Princess Grace of Monaco a hand coming aboard.  Monte used to quip that they were keeping the Cote d’Azur safe for democracy.  Several years ago Barry honored Monte’s long friendship and Monte’s many years of service to PIC with a gift that funded the construction of two of the camp’s four custom-designed and -built sailboats, which were appropriately named the Rankin and the Springfield.  

After serving in the Navy, Monte began a long career as a teacher and administrator and, to the great good fortune of Pine Island Camp and generations of young people,  became Pine Island’s third director, succeeding Jun Swan in 1969 and serving for 20 years.

Somewhere in his earliest days as director, Monte introduced a motto to the Pine Island Camp dining hall: “Gracious Living Is Our Goal.” Knowing Monte, this was his somewhat desperate attempt to bring order out of chaos. What an improbable motto for a place that had no electricity or running water and where honeydipping was a daily occurrence.  But perhaps the motto was no more improbable than the fact that Montague G. Ball, Jr., a man who appreciated luxury perhaps more than most,  would be the immensely successful leader of Pine Island Camp for 20 years.  But of course Gracious Living meant a lot more than having good table manners.  It meant living up to one’s responsibility to the community, whether in camp, out on a camping trip, in an activity, or at campfire.  It meant having respect for one another; listening to what other people had to say; keeping your bed made, your tent neat, yourself neat; and, most importantly, realizing that what you want to do will often not be as important as what others need you to do.   Monte Ball taught generations of young men and women what it really meant to give freely and continuously to a community, thereby conferring on them the great gift of being an essential element in that community’s success.  It would be difficult to calculate how many people received that gift because of Monte’s own selfless example every day, rain or shine.  

Monte’s first teaching job was at the Shattuck School in Faribault, MN where he taught for seven years, during which time he recruited numerous “Shads” as counselors, including Rex Bates who later became Monte’s assistant director and served on the PIC board for decades.  In 1970 Monte left the icy climes of Faribault for comparatively balmy Long Island, NY, where former PIC assistant director Chip Handy was headmaster of the Lawrence Country Day School.  Monte taught and served as assistant headmaster until 1973 when Chip retired and Monte decided to move to the truly balmy Greenville, SC, where he taught eighth grade geography and served as assistant director of the upper school for thirteen years.  Monte finished his teaching career at Fayetteville Academy in North Carolina.  Monte’s charisma and his position at PIC enabled him to attract legions of campers and counselors wherever he went.  To this day there are more alumni with a Greenville, SC address than just about any other city.  When Monte retired, he moved to Bali, Indonesia, a place to which he had traveled numerous times.  Monte lived in Bali for many years and then moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  His greatest pleasure was to travel, and travel he did every chance he got, back to Indonesia, and to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India.  He served as a knowledgeable tour guide to friends from the US throughout his retirement.  Just a few weeks before he died Monte was off to Bangkok for more gracious living.  

Monte was, often to his personal disadvantage, an exceptionally generous person.  In Bali, Monte became a virtual father to several young people.  He not only hired them to work for him, but after he moved to Thailand he continued to support them whenever he could, helping them as they grew up, married, built houses, and started businesses, and he would visit them in Lombok whenever he was in Bali.    After Monte moved to Chiang Mai, a friend of his moved to Luang Prabang, Laos and started a workshop to teach the children in an orphanage through the Lao Children’s Workshop, which taught basic computer, photography, and film-making skills and in the process taught the children English.  Monte supplied the workshop with computers and cameras and built a network that included a number of his successful friends in the US who supplied needed computers and cameras.  Hundreds of children benefitted from his assistance.

It would take dozens, if not hundreds of pages to recount even a tenth of the collection of fond memories, many of which are fittingly hilarious, that dwell in minds of anyone fortunate enough to have lived for a while in Monte’s orbit.  We are lucky to have them and we will treasure them and we will tell them to each other for years to come.  This writer’s head is full of them, but the one I want to share is this one:  I am a young counselor at Pine Island.  I walk into the dining hall early on a gorgeous Great Pond morning one July day.  Monte is sitting alone at his seat at the first table by the kitchen that is abuzz preparing breakfast.  He has taken his 100% dip, shaved, and donned his pressed shirt and khakis.  He has a styrofoam cup of instant coffee and the sounds of NPR’s classical music comes from a small transistor radio on the table in front of him.  Monte is perusing the pages of a one or two-day-old Waterville Sentinel.  He looks up, sees me, smiles and says, “Is this the life, or is this the life!”  

Akka Lakka, Monte!