Former Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer described as a hard-working cop, generous volunteer and proud family man
The day after well-known veteran police officer and community volunteer Derek (Doc) Ballard was killed in a harrowing accident on Pitts Memorial Drive, friends and former colleagues were still dealing with the tragic news.
“We were absolutely shocked,” RNC Veterans Association president and longtime friend Robert Escott told The Telegram Wednesday. “It was like running into a brick wall. It really took the wind out of my sails.”
Ballard was pronounced dead at the scene of a single-vehicle accident that happened on Tuesday about 2:30 p.m. on the busy highway near Southlands and Mount Pearl.
The 58-year-old from St. John’s was the passenger in an SUV that left the road and rolled onto its roof into an embankment that forms part of the meridian between the overpasses at the Ruby Line exit leading into the Southlands neighbourhood.
The driver was taken to hospital with what was described as serious but not life-threatening injuries.
When news of Ballard’s death spread through the community, people were torn, remembering him as a dedicated cop, tireless community volunteer and proud family man.
Ballard, a graduate of Brother Rice High School, was a member of the RNC for 25 years before retiring in 2006-07. During his time as an officer, he spearheaded many community events, fundraised for various charities and spoke in many schools throughout the region. In May 2019, Ballard’s only child, Mark Ballard, reached the summit of Mount Everest, a proud moment for him, according to friends.
"Everyone knew Doc. He was one of those people who had a connection with everyone.” — Georgina Short
Ballard was also involved in sports, having managed and coached various RNC hockey teams and provincial men’s softball teams.
While Ballard faced some health problems later in life, including losing a leg due to diabetes and having to undergo dialysis, friends say he seemed to be in good spirits.
“Doc was a huge personality with a heart just as big,” said Escott, who added Ballard never sought credit for all his behind-the-scenes community work. “If anyone needed anything, he was there to help. He’d try to make it right.
“He was so fun-loving and had such a dry sense of humour, you never knew if he was telling the truth or not. He was quite the character.
“We’re going to miss him so much. He’s going to leave a big hole in a lot of people’s lives.”
Robert Escott’s wife, author and former RCMP civilian member Helen Escott, who had known Ballard since high school, said she was heartbroken to hear about his death.
“Whenever Doc would see me out in public, he would make a horse's neighing sound and say, ‘Here comes the RCMP,’ and I would respond with, ‘Doc, kiss me horse.’
“He always had a cause he was fighting for or an organization he was raising money for, and a funny story to tell.”
Former RNC officer and premier Paul Davis worked with Ballard for years in Mount Pearl community policing in the 1990s. He recalled how he would captivate his audiences whenever he spoke in public.
“He was always an interesting guy to go in the classroom with or in a business. He always knew how to entertain and grab everyone’s attention,” Davis said. “He was able to get teenagers to listen and had an impact on every student he spoke to in the classroom.
“He was very well known in the community and packed a lot into his 58 years.”
Ballard’s career wasn’t without controversy.
In 1995, he faced misconduct charges and internal discipline after he reportedly mishandled evidence in a court case involving Escott the year before.
Escott had been charged in connection with an on-duty vehicle collision that injured a woman. In October 1994, while Ballard was testifying at Escott’s trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s, he was said to have improperly dealt with evidence. It resulted in disciplinary charges against him.
On Feb. 3, 1995, a woman involved in the case filed a public complaint and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Commission, which found Ballard guilty of breaching two RNC regulations — concealing an official report in a criminal proceeding and engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer by not telling the truth as a witness and willfully or negligently trying to mislead the court.
However, Ballard appealed the conviction and in 2019, the court ruled in his favour and his charges were dismissed.
Most people who knew Ballard are choosing to remember the good times.
RNC Const. Georgina Short, who helped Ballard in many police and community projects, said she was devastated to hear he had died.
“His heart was so good and he always tried to do something for people to make life easier for them,” Short said.
But above everything, she said, Ballard loved his family, noting he always spoke highly of his son, and cared deeply about his mother, taking her to annual RNC seniors events.
“He was so proud of Mark and took care of his mother,” Short said. “He genuinely was a family man.”
Short said Ballard affected many people’s lives.
“Everyone knew Doc,” she said. “He was one of those people who had a connection with everyone.”