Walter Ball, racing photographer, TV technician

July 24, 1993|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Staff Writer

Walter "Skip" Ball, a nationally acclaimed thoroughbred racing photographer who was also known as "Mr. Hand" to WJZ-TV audiences, died of cancer Thursday at his Towson home. He was 54.

Known throughout his career in both television and still photography as Skip, Mr. Ball had been an off-camera technician at Channel 13 since 1959.

"He was the life of every newscast and he was everybody's friend," said Al Sanders, the station's news anchorman.

At times during his television career, audiences occasionally got a glimpse of Mr. Ball's hand when he was directing on-camera personalities. He picked up the name "Mr. Hand" when his

fingers slipped into the camera frame. Mr. Ball did nothing to discourage this usage.

Born in Amsterdam, N.Y., Mr. Ball was 1 year old when his father moved his family to Monkton's Atlanta Hall Farm, where he was trainer and superintendent for the late Edward S. Voss. His father, Walter N. Ball, called Wassie, rode the winner of the 1935 Grand National Steeplechase at Belmont Park, N.Y.

Mr. Ball's maternal grandfather was Matt Holden, who trained Billy Barton, one of the country's most celebrated steeplechasers who was the winner of the 1926 Maryland Hunt Cup. The great jumper is memorialized with a statue at Laurel Race Course.

"Unlike his grandfather and father, Skip himself was afraid of horses and he wouldn't ride or handle them," said Snowden Carter, retired editor of Maryland Horse magazine, "but he loved to take pictures of them."

One of his greatest photos was a 1979 shot of Spectacular Bid winning the Kentucky Derby.

Mr. Carter recalled an incident when Mr. Ball was awarded one of racing's highest honors, the Eclipse Award, at a ceremony at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. He surprised the audience by pulling out a camera and taking its picture as the award was being presented by actor John Forsythe. He was also winner of the 1970 National Steeplechase and Hunt Association's photo award for a layout shot at Fair Hill.

Mr. Ball was a graduate of Bel Air High School and took a course at the Television Work Shop in New York. In March 1959, at 20, was hired by Channel 13.

His still camera work evolved at Maryland's point-to-point races. His first photograph to be published in Maryland Horse was run in October 1966.

A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Ware and Baltimore avenues, Towson.

Mr. Ball is survived by a son, Walter M. Ball Jr. of Baton Rouge, La.; two daughters, Lisa M. Everhart of Owings Mills and Stacie E. Dunworth of Towson; his brother, Michael E. Ball of South Thomaston, Maine; a sister, Nancy A. Almony of Mount Washington, Ky.; and two grandchildren.

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