It is a double shock to learn that Whitney Ball has passed away, on the same day as Peter Schramm. Most Power Line readers probably never heard of Whitney, but she was an unsung hero of the Right, and if I showed you some of the attacks the Left made on her in recent years (I won’t dignify them now) you’d get her immediately. A little more presently on that.
Better I think to tell a story of how we first met, which begins with understanding what hopeless nerds conservative policy wonks are. It was back in either 1991 or 1992—I’m fuzzy on the year now—and I was late arriving for the opening lunch of the Heritage Foundation’s annual Resource Bank conference in Philadelphia. I walked into the lunch banquet room, which was extremely full. The event was oversubscribed, and the staff at the registration table warned me that there might not be an open seat.
But I spotted one open seat: next to the prettiest girl in the room. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, while also thinking, “what the hell is wrong with these people? Who leaves an open seat next to her!?—whoever she is.” (This was at a time when the attendees at the Resource Bank meeting were probably 85 to 90 percent male.)
Among other things I learned at that first lunch, she had worked for my first mentor, the great M. Stanton Evans, so we bonded immediately. The Stan Evans fraternity is very tight. (Whitney spoke at the memorial event the Heritage Foundation held for Stan back in March.) But it turned out that Whitney was theologically serious, and as I was still somewhat conversant with Karl Barth’s critique of Thomas Aquinas, I recall attempting some kind of monologue about it, but she wasn’t having any of it. Gregarious and spirited are too inadequate to describe Whitney’s thymos. I later invented the WRS—the “Whitney Rant Scale,” which definitely went to eleven. I used to call her up sometimes to pass along some news I knew would annoy her, just to hold the phone a foot from my ear to hear the resulting epic rant. She was also stylish and first class in every way. She was an alumna of Sweet Briar, and we talked several times in recent months about the incompetence of the liberal leadership that killed Sweet Briar (probably—we’ll see if the alumni-led rescue works). Oh, and Power Line was one of her favorite sites.
Whitney helped to found the Philanthropy Roundtable, the conservative alternative to the Council on Foundations; the Roundtable was a needed alternative to the COF, which is dominated in the usual way by weak-minded establishment liberals or worse. Then late in the 1990s, Whitney had a new vision: the left used a lot of “community foundations” to steer money to left-wing causes, often from donors who didn’t really know any better but wanted for various reasons, often tax related, to set aside some money for vague philanthropic causes. Sometimes money was simply hijacked after the donors died, and sent to left-wing causes. Whitney thought there ought to be a conservative alternative, and thus Donors Trust was born. You’ve probably seen some of their magazine ads, where they pledge to observe donor intent, and support liberty-loving organizations exclusively. It was her baby, and only she could have built it into the powerhouse it became.
Like Peter Schramm (the were alike in many ways), she had battled cancer for a long time, with the same indomitable spirit. I’ve never seen a person who was both so humble and so inspirational at the same time. Also highly competent. A rare combination. As with Peter, I can’t imagine carrying on without her.