Amelia Ball, the Purple Lady, dies in fire

Amelia Ball is believed to have died from smoke inhalation.

Amelia Ball, 89, is suspected to have died from smoke inhalation after a fire broke out at her Plumstead home at the weekend.

The emergency services were called to Ms Ball’s Basil Road house on Sunday after her neighbour and long-time friend, Colleen Chowles, saw heavy smoke coming from it at about 11.30am.

Ms Ball was found on the bathroom floor after the fire was extinguished, according to Ms Chowles.

It worried her that her friend had been in the same pants she had worn on her birthday on Wednesday September 22, she said.

Ms Chowles said Ms Ball had been partially blind and she had used candles in the house because some of the lights had been faulty.

“Amelia came to me every afternoon for her single glass of whisky and a cigarette. One afternoon, she didn’t arrive, so I ran up and she was sitting on the stairs and couldn’t see anything. We got her on the waiting list for a cornea transplant, which unfortunately didn’t happen because of Covid,” said Ms Chowles.

Ms Ball had moved into the house in 1956, she said. Her husband, Raymond, who used to own Suburban Guns, had died in 2005.

“Her piano was her most-prized possession. She was very talented and would often play at various functions including the Christmas parties held by Meals on Wheels every year. In the early 80s, she coached the drummies at Bergvliet High School. She was a very theatrical person, hence the purple hair, I think,” said Ms Chowles.

“She was the most wonderful, eccentric old gal, and what a sense of humour – always talking to anybody and everybody, always worrying about everybody and fussing over everyone, very seldom worried about herself. She left that for us to do.”

She tells the story of them in her kitchen not long ago. “While I was cooking she came up behind me and yanked me over to start dancing to Mrs Robinson – she managed to finish the dance too,” laughed Ms Chowles.

Another story is about Ms Ball’s bank and social-grant cards. The South African Social Security Agency had replaced it about nine times and had told her it was the last card they were giving her, said Ms Chowles. “I gave her an ultimatum that I would keep the cards safe for her and would do her shopping and her meals.”

“She often took in stray dogs and fed them. She loved animals and once told me that she belonged in the jungle.”

Neighbour Hilda Schoeman said she was distraught over Ms Ball’s death. She, together with another friend, went to lay flowers at the site of the fire on Monday. “Amelia was very talented, outspoken and knew the name of every plant in her garden. She was known as the Purple Lady,” said Ms Schoeman.

Ursula Schenker said Ms Ball loved playing the piano. “She is a peaceful soul with a gentle albeit eccentric manner who was fondly known for sporting her colourful hair.” She had met Ms Ball, she said, while supporting her in her role as victim-support counsellor at the Diep River trauma room.

City Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Edward Bosch said the dwelling was severely damaged and the cause of the fire is unknown.

Diep River Police spokesperson Constable Zak Marais said an inquest docket had been opened to investigate the cause of Ms Ball’s death.

The Plumstead community will be celebrating Ms Ball’s life on Friday October 1, at 6pm, at the Lympleigh Road Park. Members of the public are invited to take a candle or a flower or two to place in front of her house.

The house and its contents were badly damaged by the fire, heat and smoke.