Zachare Ball-McKane was known as “Sugar” to her family and closest friends, a nickname that was rooted in her Greek heritage but also perfectly reflected her sweet disposition and always-caring, helpful attitude. Ball-McKane, who was a longtime reporter and obituary writer for the Detroit Free Press before launching a second career in environmental clean-up and protection, died January 27th at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak after a three-year struggle with cancer. She was 61. A Detroit native and graduate of Redford High on the city’s west side, Ball-McKane joined the Free Press as a “copy aide” – a newsroom go-fer at the age of 18 and worked her way into reporting and writing as she earned a journalism degree from Wayne State University. In the early 1980s, Ball-McKane was part of the newspaper’s “Action Line” staff that investigated and resolved all kinds of problems for readers. In her years as the newspaper’s daily obituary writer, Ball-McKane’s desk was often decked out with flowers from families and funeral homes grateful for the sensitive way in which she handled the story of a death. Her attitude, she once said, was “to write about people’s lives, not their deaths” and to do so with great care knowing how important obituaries were to families. Her reporting duties would expand to the police beat and Detroit city hall, an area well-suited to Ball-McKane’s passion for local politics – a trait inherited perhaps from her mother, Mary Ball, a longtime public relations official for the city. Among Ball-McKane’s major journalism projects was an award-winning 1990 Free Press investigative series with Pulitzer Prize winner David Ashenfelter that exposed how the Detroit Law Department squandered millions of dollars by failing to settle cases and by losing cases because its lawyers failed to show up for court or meet legal deadlines. “I always looked forward to working with Zach because she was smart, dedicated, creative and a genuinely nice person,” Ashenfelter said.
As a reporter, Ball-McKane was also among the first on the scene at the August 1987 crash of a jetliner near Metro Airport that killed 156 people, at the time the second-worst aviation disaster in U.S. history. “It was before cell phones,” recalled Ron Dzwonkowski, also on the scene that Sunday night and later Zachare’s editor at the Free Press. “Zach was the one who got people in houses around the scene to let us use their phones to call in the story.” Ball-McKane left the Free Press in the early 1990s to join the Detroit office of Environmental Consulting Technologies, a firm that works to resolves complex environmental and pollution issues in the public and private sectors. Her work often included translating scientific and technical information into everyday language for public consumption. She also did grant-writing that generated millions of dollars for major projects such as the Rouge River clean-up. Patrick McKane, her husband of 27 years, said Zachare also was a voracious reader who could easily devour “a book a day” during their vacations and was an accomplished cook who “every year at Christmas laid out a homemade buffet for about 40 people. Nobody left hungry.” “She was always doing things for people,” McKane said. “Even when she was leaving the hospital after a major surgery, she had gifts for all the caregivers on staff.” Zachare was the oldest of five children of Mary and Don Ball, who was an award winning investigative reporter for the Detroit Times and the Detroit News. Her mother died in 1999; her father in 1987. In addition to her husband, Ball-McKane is survived by a stepdaughter, Tiffany McKane and a step-granddaughter, Sophia Myers; a sister Paula Ball (George Mahan) and brothers Don (Doreen), Bernie (Joan) and Tom (Carl); niece Caitlin Ball and nephew Don Ball and many other nieces and nephews. Visitation Saturday, January 28, 2017 from 3:00 to 8:00 PM and Sunday, January 29, 2017 from 12:00 PM to 5:00PM at MANNS FAMILY FUNERAL HOME 17000 Middlebelt Road, (south of 6 Mile Road) Livonia. Memorial Service Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 4:00 PM. The family asks that memorial donations in the name of Zachare Ball-McKane go to Planned Parenthood of Michigan.