Murray Ball, cartoonist and shining star, dies at 78

Widely-respected artist dies at home at 11.30am yesterday.

Widely-respected artist dies at home at 11.30am yesterday.

Vale Murray Ball.

NEW Zealand has lost its most loved cartoonist, Gisborne’s Murray Ball.

Best known for the memorable characters in his cartoon strip Footrot Flats, the widely-respected artist died at home at 11.30am yesterday surrounded by family.

His wife Pam, three children and grandchildren were there, as well as Mr Ball’s brother Barry and close friends. Mr Ball had been out of the public eye due to Alzheimer’s, which he lived with for eight years. He was aged 78.

“It was a terribly sad and emotional day yesterday,” said Mr Ball’s wife Pam.

“It was expected but it was terrible to see him go. It was lovely to have family and friends there but it was so, so hard the moment he went.”

The family had received some wonderful tributes from around the world, she says.

Mayor Meng Foon described Mr Ball as a legend in our community. On behalf of the community, and the art in public places committee, he extended his heartfelt condolences to the Ball family.

“Murray made us laugh, reflect and inspired us as proud New Zealanders. It was a great honour to present Murray’s key collection of cartoon books to the Beijing Olympic committee in 2008.”

Mr Foon is pleased Wal and Dog will take pride of place at the entrance of the re-developed library.

“Murray, your legacy will take pride in Bright Street, a fitting place for such a bright shining star of our creative community.”

Man of the soil

Gisborne artist and art teacher Norman Maclean remembers Mr Ball as a man of the soil who loved the country, animals and bird life. He also remembers him as a fine artist, although Mr Ball disagreed.

“Murray used to say he was not an artist — which was ridiculous. His command of line was outstanding.

“For a time he broke into painting. His paintings were forceful, with a very strong line and a strong sense of immediacy.”

The cartoonist’s sense of fun came to light while out riding with Mr Maclean.

“The first time out he gave me a huge horse called Black. Murray knew what he would do at a certain point and that was to turn home.

“Black took off, my feet flew out of the stirrups and I heard hoots of laughter behind me.”

Mr Ball was a complex figure though, says Mr Maclean. He was very serious-minded.

“He thought deeply about political and social matters and had a great sense of justice and of a fair go for the average person.”

Although he ascribed to no religion, he described himself as a Christian socialist and enjoyed many arguments with Mr Maclean about religion and philosophy.

Prime ministerial tribute

In a tribute to Mr Ball, Prime Minister Bill English describes the Gisborne cartoonist as a thoughtful New Zealander “who took our unique sense of humour to the world”.

Cartoonist Tom Scott, who co-wrote the screenplay for Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, told the New Zealand Herald Mr Ball was “funny and goofy and generous, and incredibly serious about inequality”.

“He mourned the New Zealand he remembered being fair, and I guess if he had his life over again Murray would rather have been an editorial cartoonist.”

Mr Scott also remembers Mr Ball as “an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life”.

New Zealand Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson said Footrot Flats captured the essence of New Zealand farm life.

“But farm life is virtually the same the world over, hence it quickly became a household icon both here and abroad.

“How lucky are we to have had the pleasure of Murray Ball’s home-grown genius to entertain us when we needed it most.”

The funeral service will be held at Bushmere Arms on Friday at 1pm.

NEW Zealand has lost its most loved cartoonist, Gisborne’s Murray Ball.

Best known for the memorable characters in his cartoon strip Footrot Flats, the widely-respected artist died at home at 11.30am yesterday surrounded by family.

His wife Pam, three children and grandchildren were there, as well as Mr Ball’s brother Barry and close friends. Mr Ball had been out of the public eye due to Alzheimer’s, which he lived with for eight years. He was aged 78.

“It was a terribly sad and emotional day yesterday,” said Mr Ball’s wife Pam.

“It was expected but it was terrible to see him go. It was lovely to have family and friends there but it was so, so hard the moment he went.”

The family had received some wonderful tributes from around the world, she says.

Mayor Meng Foon described Mr Ball as a legend in our community. On behalf of the community, and the art in public places committee, he extended his heartfelt condolences to the Ball family.

“Murray made us laugh, reflect and inspired us as proud New Zealanders. It was a great honour to present Murray’s key collection of cartoon books to the Beijing Olympic committee in 2008.”

Mr Foon is pleased Wal and Dog will take pride of place at the entrance of the re-developed library.

“Murray, your legacy will take pride in Bright Street, a fitting place for such a bright shining star of our creative community.”

Man of the soil

Gisborne artist and art teacher Norman Maclean remembers Mr Ball as a man of the soil who loved the country, animals and bird life. He also remembers him as a fine artist, although Mr Ball disagreed.

“Murray used to say he was not an artist — which was ridiculous. His command of line was outstanding.

“For a time he broke into painting. His paintings were forceful, with a very strong line and a strong sense of immediacy.”

The cartoonist’s sense of fun came to light while out riding with Mr Maclean.

“The first time out he gave me a huge horse called Black. Murray knew what he would do at a certain point and that was to turn home.

“Black took off, my feet flew out of the stirrups and I heard hoots of laughter behind me.”

Mr Ball was a complex figure though, says Mr Maclean. He was very serious-minded.

“He thought deeply about political and social matters and had a great sense of justice and of a fair go for the average person.”

Although he ascribed to no religion, he described himself as a Christian socialist and enjoyed many arguments with Mr Maclean about religion and philosophy.

Prime ministerial tribute

In a tribute to Mr Ball, Prime Minister Bill English describes the Gisborne cartoonist as a thoughtful New Zealander “who took our unique sense of humour to the world”.

Cartoonist Tom Scott, who co-wrote the screenplay for Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale, told the New Zealand Herald Mr Ball was “funny and goofy and generous, and incredibly serious about inequality”.

“He mourned the New Zealand he remembered being fair, and I guess if he had his life over again Murray would rather have been an editorial cartoonist.”

Mr Scott also remembers Mr Ball as “an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life”.

New Zealand Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson said Footrot Flats captured the essence of New Zealand farm life.

“But farm life is virtually the same the world over, hence it quickly became a household icon both here and abroad.

“How lucky are we to have had the pleasure of Murray Ball’s home-grown genius to entertain us when we needed it most.”

The funeral service will be held at Bushmere Arms on Friday at 1pm.

Among tributes on social media for Mr Ball is a memory from Denise Sterling.

“You made us kids at Waikirikiri School feel so important when you visited. We left the dog on our blackboard all year. It was our pride and joy. Thanks for the memories.”

“Very, very sad,” writes Simon Enzed Buckman. “Your work lives on. Nice to know the Wal and Dog statue will take pride of place in Gisborne.”

“RIP Murray Ball,” says Aroha Burrows. “Thanks for Footrot Flats and I hope you have your slice of heaven. The song Slice of Heaven is my phone ring, so I will always think of the good times.”

Louise Karoline Højsgaard-Mikkelsen: “Just loved Footrot Flats, called ‘Fæhunden’ in Danish. Thanks for many laughs. RIP Murray Ball.”

Mr Ball’s cartoons ran from 1976 until 1994 in newspapers and were released in book form. Journalist Mike Field wrote on Facebook that Evening Post editor Mike Robson once entered the newsroom with a wad of paper.

“In what passed as market research in those days, he said a friend of his, back from England, had created a cartoon strip. What did we think, he wanted to know. I don’t remember a single negative word. We all loved it.”

The cartoons depicted farming life and addressed big issues of the times.

The central character was Wal Footrot’s sheepdog called Dog, whose thoughts were voiced in thought bubbles.

In 1986 the feature film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s (Tail) Tale and its theme song Slice of Heaven, penned by Dave Dobbyn, were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia.

Mr Ball was educated in New Zealand and Australia before his parents moved the family to South Africa.

He stopped drawing Footrot Flats in 1994, citing disillusionment with economic policies pursued in New Zealand at the time.

The great question of Dog’s real name was never answered.

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Susan O'Bryan - 1 year ago
1982 I, a Yank, was introduced to Footrot Flats by an Aussie in Queensland . . . now my husband. My Australian visa was running out, so I flew to NZ to visit a friend and his wife. I discovered Murray Ball also lived in the North Island, so I called him and blubbered about how I loved the Dog, etc...can I visit? Yes, he said straight away, come for tea. (He meant the drink, not the meal!)
I bought about 20 copies of different Footrot Flats, and my friend's very preggers Wife and I drove the two hours and we're greeted by Murray and Pam with a cuppa, and laughed and chatted (she's very funny!) Murray showed us parts of the farm, and gallantly posed for my camera with my constant travelling companions, toy Tasmanian devils.
We all laughed as I pulled out my stack of books, and he wonderfully let Dog sign every one. My husband loves his cricket-uniformed dog hello almost as much as I love the embarrassed Dog saying hi SO'B (my initials and nickname).
So very saddened at his passing . . . and glad I'm a pushy Yank! They were such lovely people to allow us to take up their time.
Thank you NZ, you grow them "good"!

SO'B and JC of SW Florida

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