Realtor loved Winter Park
There’s a tapestry to Winter Park: one more gleaming and even perhaps more interesting than the mosaic glass that looks down on Park Avenue from the Morse Museum Gallery of American Art.
While the area is blessed with art treasures, there are other community valuables that we walk by every day without a second glance. They are the real artifacts, slowly being lost to the cycle of life.
One such Winter Park treasure passed away quietly the same week as the Pulse shootings. Burdened with 49 obituaries and a national tragedy in its backyard, the daily paper’s limited manpower resources prevented a timely salute to this man. It is fitting that Winter Park statesman Jack Ballard’s life story was saved for his hometown paper – the one he read cover to cover every week.
You might not have known Jack, but Winter Park was a better city because of him. Remember Dolly the Trolley? Jack and his partners at Village Realty on New York Avenue brought her back to the community just in time for Christmas shopping in November 1979. The community loved Dolly as “just one more quaint life style of Park Avenue.” Dolly’s 34 seats were often filled with riders who sang along with the music as it drove through town. And on Wednesday nights, Dolly offered a “twilight tour of Winter Park…to view area homes that make Winter Park what it is – a city of traditions honored.”
The trolley used to ride by St. Margaret Mary Church where Jack and Joan, his wife of 56 years, faithfully attended. He lived his faith and served as a role model for everyone except, as his son, Jay, quipped, “the choir.” Jack couldn’t carry a tune.
Jack and Joan volunteered as marriage facilitators at the church. Their role was to prepare engaged couples for marriage. Of the 50 or so couples they guided, only two are known to have divorced.
“God loved Jack so much,” Joan said, “he spared him from pain. It was Jack’s reward on earth. He faced adversity concerning his health with dignity and strength.”
Jack also outlived a train crash.
Back in 1973, a train barreled through the intersection of Maitland and Horatio avenues, totaling his car but sparing him. Cars can be replaced, thought Jack, but not his favorite golf shoes. He found where his car was towed and managed to salvage them from the trunk. “We thought you were dead,” said the guy at the lot. “No one could have survived the mangled mess we towed here.”
His love for Joan shined in his eyes whenever she came into the room.
“They were like apple pie and ice cream,” said daughter Jennifer, “They just went together.”
The two met at a friend’s backyard barbecue in Rhode Island during college. He called a few days later and she demurred his invitation even though “he was so sweet, and kind, and so good looking.” He called again, and she acquiesced. “He was such a flirt.”
None of the family can ever remember him raising his voice in anger. Well, except when the Red Sox choked in a game. Red Sox fans need a sense of humor, some would say. He was a great tease, right up until the end. As his illness progressed, he often fell. One day, a good friend was helping Jack walk to his chair to watch a Red Sox game on TV. Jack suddenly slipped and fell, ending up back in the hospital. His friend was devastated that he didn’t catch him in time. When he visited the hospital, Jack opened one eye and cracked, “Are you here to push me again?” He always knew how to make others feel better, regardless of how he was feeling.
If the Red Sox were his burden, golf was his salvation.
“He was the most competitive 15-handicap player,” said his son Jay. “Everyone wanted him as their partner on the course.”
“People think that hearing you have cancer is the worst moment of your life. For dad, hearing that he couldn’t play golf was far worse,” he said. But he played a round one more time because “sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Golfers can relate to that, especially his friends at the Interlachen Country Club. He used to joke with them, telling them he hoped that his obituary would start with, “After landing his first hole in one…” But that was not to be. Jack quietly passed away at home at age 83, the epitome of a life well-lived. As Father Richard Walsh said at the celebration of Jack’s life, he was “not only a kind man, but one of a kind.”
Jack was one of the most highly respected residential Realtors in the state of Florida, often a multi-million dollar salesman. Yet night after night at the family dining room table, Jack stood firm on his belief that one of their tenants be allowed to stay in their rental without paying rent.
“The man is down on his luck,” Jack said. “He’s a good man, a family man, and we aren’t going to add to his problems.”
Months later there was a knock on the door. Jack opened the door and his children heard the stranger say, “No one else believed in me. No one else gave me a second chance but you. Here is a check for all of the past rent. You are a good man, Mr. Ballard, and I will always be grateful to you for seeing the best in me.”
Daughter Jennifer, a physician’s assistant in neurosurgery in New York City, nearly bursts with pride talking about the man her father was.
“His biggest lesson to us was that we should be respectful of every human being, whether it’s the garbage man or the president,” she said. “’Kindness begets kindness,’ he would remind us. But more importantly, he showed us.”
Born in Providence, R.I., he was one of six children. “But only one bathroom,” he used to sigh. He graduated from Brown University on the GI Bill with a degree in economics. He served during the Korean War as a military policeman. Then he went into sales. During his career he earned untold number of awards, but the Paul Harris Fellow award from his fellow Rotarians stood out to him.
Lehigh Cement recruited Jack, bringing the Ballards to Central Florida. The children remember when he drove them to the Florida Gas Company construction site (at the intersection of Orange and 17-92) for them to watch the area’s first continuous pour of concrete. “He loved to share his work with us,” said son Jay, who is now a highly respected commercial realtor with Cushman Wakefield in Orlando.
A career move brought them to rural Florida, but Joan was miserable there. He kept his promise to move them back home by earning his real estate license to immediately qualify for job openings in the Winter Park area. He made that momentous career change at age 38 and with three children at home and according to Joan, “He never looked back.”
That’s when he met Jack Gale of Gale Realty. Jack’s first real estate office was on South Maitland Avenue next to the Ranch House (now Antonio’s). He joined four friends and founded Village Realty of Winter Park, which was eventually acquired by Merrill Lynch Realty. Some still remember Jack from his desk perch looking out onto Park Avenue when he was on floor duty. He also worked at Brown, Harris, Stevens, then served a long tenure as a million-dollar Realtor at Fannie Hillman on Fairbanks Avenue.
His children recall his first sale for an elderly woman in Casselberry. “He would often say, ‘I’m so glad I could sell that house for her.’” He once stopped on the way to the hospital emergency room to sign a contract for a new listing. He closed deals on the hood of a car.
Times were especially difficult when Joan had major back surgery.
“Dad became Mr. Mom overnight, driving us around, getting us to all of our activities,” remembers daughter Maryanne, who now teaches children who are too ill to attend school.
“He would make our lunches every night and always remembered who wanted the crust trimmed and who didn’t. He even drove us to look at colleges.”
As his health deteriorated, he partnered with Fannie Hillman associate Megan Cross to service his long-time customers and his referrals. Cross remembers Jack as one of the most honorable men she’d ever known. And she would know, being the daughter-in-law of banking legend Pete Cross who also died recently. The loss of these two men so close to one another has been difficult for her.
At Jack’s funeral, hundreds of people lined up to express their sympathy and tell stories. One of son Jay’s favorites was from a woman who said she’d been in real estate for 27 years. Jack was the other Realtor on her first closing and she still remembers it vividly. “It was the best organized, smoothest closing I’ve had in all of the years since.” Jack mentored so many young Realtors, the family couldn’t name them all. Local attorney Butch Slaughter said in a letter to Jack’s family, “He was a good, honest, caring person whose passing will be lamented but whose name will continue on as an example of a life well lived.”
One of the last words Jack heard was from Alex, 4, who lives next door. Little Alex and sister Caroline, 7, are bouncy, happy, giggly youngsters who adopted Jack as their grandpa from nearly the day they moved into the neighborhood. Concerned that “Mr. Jack” wasn’t feeling well, Alex stared at Jack with intensity at his bedside the day he died. Jack could always sense when they were nearby. He peeked open an eye and smiled. Alex asked how he was doing and Jack found a way to give two thumbs up to the little boy who had stolen his heart. The last words Jack heard were, “I love you, Mr. Jack.”
There were no more fitting words to leave this life and go onto the next. For if you’ve earned the love of two little children on your deathbed, all is right in this world and beyond.