On June 1, 1961, a young woman reported to our offices for her first day of work as a secretary, having arrived by way of Stanford and Katharine Gibbs. Sarah Ballard was a Californian who enjoyed playing sports like tennis and volleyball, but she had little interest in the business of covering them. Her reasons for choosing SI over The Wall Street Journal and Merrill Lynch: "The people at SI worked in their shirtsleeves, and my boss told me to call him by his first name. What better reasons?"
This week, nearly 30 years and 1,500 issues later, Ballard is retiring. Over that span she progressed from secretary to reporter to writer to senior editor. In that last capacity she oversaw the 63-page review of 1990 in this issue. "Working at SI all these years has been like living in a village on the 18th floor of a skyscraper," says Ballard. "People come and go, they marry, they have children, they grow old. Just like in Grover's Corners."
When she became a reporter, which primarily meant checking stories for accuracy, she proved to be, as she was once described on this page, a "factual sleuth." In 1975 the sleuth was promoted to writer, which meant leaving the village and traveling all over the world‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√ë‚àö√ÜGermany, China, Ireland, Czechoslovakia, to name just a few of the places she visited for us. She did features on gymnasts and pro football players, tennis players and weightlifters, and she was among our most graceful writers.
Her areas of expertise are sailing and golf. When the America's Cup went to Australia in 1987, Ballard wasn't far behind, living there for four months as the U.S. won it back. Deadlines were agony for her, but she always delivered. Never was she more tested than at the '87 Masters, where she had to discard a notebook full of Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros anecdotes and write of the little-known Larry Mize, the winner in a three-way playoff.
A year and a half ago Ballard came in from the cold, becoming senior editor in charge of, among other things, golf, her favorite sport. She knew nothing about the game when she became our golf reporter, but she became an authority. Last week, while rummaging through old issues of SI, she saw that the cover subject of the June 12, 1961 issue, her first as a staffer, was a U.S. Open preview. The photo showed an 18th green and a clubhouse.
"Don't tell me," she said. She thought. "Oakland Hills." Right. And the winner? More thought. "Gene Littler," she said. Right again. "See?" she said. "I've learned something in all these years."
So have we. We have learned that she is a talented journalist and a good friend. We shall miss her.