yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


compiled by Brenda Kirk Fiddler

Photograph of Fleetwood Ball,
from Reminescence of a Baptist Minister
by C. E. Azbill

January 16, 1925
House Chaplain Fleetwood Ball

We gave but bare notice last week of the appointment of Rev. Fleetwood Ball, pastor of Lexington First Baptist Church, to the position of Chaplain of the Lower House of the Tennessee Legislature, for the first half of the session.

The yet young if "Reverend" gentleman has served the Lexington church 24 years, all of his ministerial life except just a few years, but his work has not been confined to Lexington, for the in the capacity of Secretary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, he has become one of the best known Baptist ministers in Tennessee--and in addition to which he has done considerable work as correspondent and otherwise for secular papers--and, as the newspaper men sometimes say of each other, "he wields a trenchant pen."

With this for Chaplain Ball in the state, now we can say without fear of successful contradiction, that he is by odds the strongest one man in Henderson County. He has preached in so many places, he has tied so many nuptial knots, he has officiated at so many funerals and he has written so many notices of them after he married them and helped to bury them that he has a Henderson county standing that in politics would mean an invincible machine.

We congratulate Speaker Barry, Junior, on the appointment, and trust that whatever Bro. Ball may say in prayer at the opening of the legislative sessions may tend to make the members do their best for the welfare of Tennessee.

July 19, 1940


A friend told me recently that I have been the best obituary writer he had known, but said that Brother Ball and I vied with each other in giving the deceased a send off into the other world--at least as good as they deserved and I believed that Bro. Ball will agree with me that Shakespeare was right in saying, "The evil that men do live after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."

When the preacher and the newspaperman get done with a fellow, not so much more is heard about his goodness, but you will begin to hear somebody say: "Old Bill Barry was a pretty good fellow, BUT," gradually every but possible to old Bill will be common talk and most of it the truth.

Well, Fleetwood Ball came to Lexington when young in the Baptist ministry, preached here 34 years, married one of the loveliest girls who gave him four fine girls and was lost to him when Martha Jo was a wee tot. In connection with the rearing of these girls there is a story of Christian self-sacrifice, not often seen in this age of self gratification but I am not now relating.

Now back to Fleetwood Ball. Like the writer, he is down and out, yet makes an effort to do his mite. I am asking you of the younger generation to remember him and give him full credit for his wonderful personality, his indomitable energy and the fact that he preached to his Lexington congregation and country churches for many years, during which time he had louder calls, in dollars and cents from others. Brother Ball and I have not always agreed, but he has stuck his feet under my table, and in the main, our association has been one of friendship. I am especially glad to say for him that he has been the kind of preacher who stuck to his own religion in his own pulpit, instead of wasting time by lambasting others.—W. V. Barry

Fleetwood Ball and his wife Flossie Melton in photograph
taken in Hot Springs. Arkansas. Photograph from
Henderson County, Tennessee: A Pictorial History
by Emily David and Brenda Kirk Fidler

May 9, 1941
Passing of Rev. Fleetwood Ball

The Reverend Dr. Fleetwood Ball, pastor emeritus of the First Baptist Church, died at his home in Lexington on May 1st , 1941, following a brief, severe illness from pneumonia and a long, long fight reaching back through the years to the time when his hand commenced to shake and his physical feet began to falter as he went with unfailing spirit about his Master's business.

It was one o'clock in the morning of May Day when Fleetwood Ball passed from this world into that other realm of which he has spoken to so many hundreds of people, testifying over and over, with faith, courage, zeal and joy, with faith, courage, zeal and joy, his unalterable belief in the Heaven that waits for him who repents of his sins, confesses his Christ, and lives before the world in charity, humility and kindness.

For thirty-four years, he told his faith to the people of Lexington, where he served as pastor and then another four years after ill health had forced his retirement. A man of boundless energy, tireless, quick, during the years of his health, he wore himself out in the service of people, both in and out of his congregation, to whom he was friend, counselor and spiritual guide.

Older people will recall how he used to go about driving a little horse and buggy, preaching every Sunday afternoon to smaller churches in the country, holding revivals far and near, administering baptism, conducting funerals all over the countryside. The weather was never too bad, the distance too great, nor the family too obscure for him to leave a call unheeded, and always he seemed to say the right word, the tactful word, the most comforting word, for each particular home into which he came with sympathy which was never perfunctory, never blatant, never lacking in dignity. Remembering his attitude in the presence of death, surely there is none, even among those nearest and dearest to him, who can fail to be conscious of the transcending majesty of Time exchanged for Peace.

There is probably no one who could count the number of funeral services he has held, and none who could say how many marriage ceremonies he performed. Beside more formal occasions, there were many who used to come to his gate in buggies, later in cars. One or more couples were married thus almost every week. He was writing locals, then for the Lexington Republican, and every bride, in his eyes, was lovely and winsome, every youth a stalwart promise for the future. A home, in his mind, had come into being. He believed in its virtue and in the virtue and strength of the young people about to live in it. He must, in his heart, have prayed earnestly for all these youngsters, and for all those, both young and old, who come flocking down innumerable church aisles to receive from him the handclasp of Christian fellowship.

All his life Mr. Ball was a writer. Never lacking when the occasion arose from extemporaneous speaking, he yet carefully wrote his sermons. He delivered them with fire and earnestness in a loud, clear voice that carried to the outskirts of a village until illness and overwork had taken toll of his vocal chords. He led the singing. He prayed with fervor and in the pulpit always seemed utterly oblivious of himself, save as an instrument attuned to a message of tremendous importance. In the midst of success and popularity such as comes to few men, he was always reticent and extremely modest concerning his own achievements. Nothing embarrassed him so much as praise.

For twenty-five years, Dr. Ball was recording secretary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and had the unusual honor of being elected secretary emeritus, after he was no longer able to remain on active duty. For forty years he edited "Among the Brethren," for the Baptist and Reflector. For almost as long he reported the annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention for the Commercial Appeal. He was Lexington correspondent for the Appeal and other papers for years , and contributed much to the Lexington Republican, where he worked on an old brown desk by the front window, writing in longhand in a very small firm script. With all his zeal for the church, there was room in his interest for secular affairs. He was keenly aware of political differences, but he never brought politics into the pulpit. That [pulpit] belonged to his Lord.

Bro. Ball was born March 16, 1876, at Cherry Creek, Pontotoc County, Mississippi, the son of Lizzie McKay and Rev. Martin Ball. He received his B.S. degree from Union University, and was licensed to preach by the First Baptist Church, in Jackson, at the age of sixteen. He later graduated from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, and was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Paris in Paris, Tennessee, in 1894. He served several churches in that vicinity and answered the call to Lexington in 1901-1902. He was a trustee of Union University for many years, and in 1934, had conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity by that institution. No one in Lexington ever called him "Doctor," however. He had been "Brother Ball" to too many people for too long a time for this title to ever come into common use.

He was a Mason and a member of the S.A.E. fraternity. He had been Master of his lodge, Moderator of the Beech River Baptist Association, chaplain of the Tennessee Legislature, and an evangelist of more than unusual power, giving his time and strength to all their activities with devotion and loyalty far beyond that of ordinary men.

Dr. Ball was married May 14, 1907, to Miss Flossie Melton, who died in 1918. Their four daughters survive: Mrs. Thoburn Holmes (Mary Elizabeth), of McKenzie; Mrs. H.G. McGinley (Lilly McKay), of Clinton; Miss Martha Jo Ball, of Washington, D.C.;

Miss Flossie Melton Ball, who lives with her grandmother, Mrs. M.V. Melton, in the family home in Lexington. He also leaves a sister, Mrs. Robert Howard, of Paris, and two grandchildren, James and Lewis Holmes. He was devoted to his family and one of his last services in the church was when he officiated at the marriage of his daughter, Lily McKay and Mr. McKinley, last December.

Funeral services were held Friday afternoon at two o'clock, in his church, where the body lay in state throughout most of the day. Chancel, pulpit and choir were banked with flowers, and church and Sunday School rooms were filled with friends from far and near. The Rev. Walter Warmath, pastor of the church, was in charge of the service, assisted by Dr. John Jeter Hurt, and Rev. Clarence Azbill, both of Jackson.

The church used the familiar hymns, "Rock of Ages," "Asleep in Jesus," and others, with Mrs. Carl Armstrong as accompanist, and H.D. Barry sang "God's Tomorrow."

All was simple, beautiful, sincere, as benefited the modest manner of one who lived and died in humble service to a great ideal.

Pall-bearers were: John W. Stewart, Sam C. Jones, John H. Wadley, Joe Azbill, A.H. Joyner, Connie Sullivan, John A. McCall, and Felix Creasy.

Royal Pafford, with whom he had served on many similar occasions, was in charge of arrangements.—W. V. Barry

Biographical Sketch from Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists
Obituary of Mrs. Fleetwood Ball
Return to Yesterday (Henderson County, Tennessee History Page)

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