Laurence Ball was born in Birmingham, the son of an architect, Joseph Lancaster, and Edith Sophia, formerly Barnsley. He went to King Edward’s School and then entered the medical school at the newly established University of Birmingham.
He was outstanding as a student, and after holding a number of resident appointments in the Birmingham teaching hospitals was appointed first pathologist and then immediately afterwards assistant physician to the Queen’s Hospital (1912). Then came the war. In August 1914 he was commissioned, joined the South Midland Casualty Clearing Station, a Territorial unit, went with it to France in the early months of the war and served for the whole of his four years abroad in the forward area. This he preferred to the prospect of work at a base hospital, and in 1916 he was posted at his own request as regimental medical officer to a battalion. He was always steady, cheerful, unperturbed by danger, with a joie de vivre and a sense of humour that brightened the war for many. He was awarded the Military Cross and was mentioned in dispatches.
After the war he returned to his consultant practice and in 1926 was promoted honorary physician at Queen’s Hospital and appointed joint professor of medicine at the University of Birmingham. In those days there were always two such professors, one from each of the two main teaching hospitals.
As a teacher Laurence Ball was outstanding; his classes were always crowded and his merry blue eyes, his hearty laugh and his graphic way of talking endeared him to all students. His main interests lay in teaching and in clinical work; he never engaged in any scheme of long term research nor did he publish much in professional journals.
As a man he took a keen interest in the arts, in music, letters, painting and architecture. To one who knew him from student days onwards memories came crowding back of tramps over the Welsh hills and the South Downs, visits to abbeys and churches, and long evenings with widely ranging talks. He never married and appeared to prefer the company of men to that of ladies. He died suddenly and tragically at the age of forty-five.
Richard R Trail
[Brit.med.J., 1929, 2, 1201-2; Lancet, 1929, 2, 1170.]