By JIM MARTZ
If not for the encouragement I received from Arthur Ashe, Florida Tennis magazine might never have been started.
In September of 1991, I was in the first row of the press box at Louis Armstrong Stadium while covering the U.S. Open for the Miami Herald. Looking over my shoulder from the row behind me was Ashe, who was writing columns for the Washington Post.
I had known Arthur for nearly two decades. His years as director of tennis at Doral Resort and Club in Miami coincidentally were the years I was the Herald's tennis writer.
That fall I was thinking of leaving the newspaper and starting a tennis magazine that would focus on Florida, America's Most Important Tennis State. That would mean no more weekly pay checks or all-expenses paid trips to the U.S. Open. The next check I'd see would be from an advertiser, if anyone would want to place one in a magazine that had no track record. And I had never sold an ad or even thought about it.
I mentioned my aspirations and apprehensions to Arthur. He encouraged me to take a leap of faith and suggested I look at Bill Simons' Inside Tennis in California as a guideline. And a few months later I did just that, and Florida Tennis is in its 27th year of serving as the Voice of Tennis in Florida.
Ashe inspired countless people world wide in numerous ways. He transcended tennis as an activist, writer and commentator, and he did so with humility, grace and class..
He died on Feb. 6, 1993, at age 49 from AIDS-related pneumonia due to a tainted blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery. A month later I wrote a tribute in Florida Tennis under the headline "Ashe Legacy Will Continue in State." That's still true.
He would have turned 75 this July 10. It has been 25 years since his passing and 50 years since he won the first U.S. Open.
Ashe was born and raised in segregated Richmond, Va., earned a degree in business administration at UCLA, joined the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. In addition to winning the U.S. Open he also won Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open.
He was the first African-American chosen for the U,S. Davis Cup team, and he was selected as team captain. He served as president of the ATP and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
In retirement from the tour he founded the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Safe Passage Foundation, the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He published the three-volume A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. He fought apartheid in South Africa and was arrested protesting outside the White House the U.S. policy toward Haitian refugees.
I know of numerous ways Ashe impacted lives in Florida, including a 12-year-old from Coral Gables, Brooks Strawser, who had cystic fibrosis, an incurable lung disease. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was a charity of the ATP Tour, and Ashe appeared with Brooks in a fund-raising commercial.
Most kids who had CF in those days died in their teens. But as Brooks lived into young adulthood and earned a degree from the University of Florida, Ashe regularly kept in touch with him and offered encouragement.
In 1992, shortly after riots in Los Angeles, Ashe met with his long-time friend Butch Buchholz, the founder of what is now known as the Miami Open, and said Miami was a strong candidate to be like the Los Angeles riots. Buchholz subsequently met with business leaders and Jeb Bush, son of president George H.W. Bush, and launched the Good Life Mentoring Program at five Miami area high schools.
Several times in the 1980s Ashe hit with kids on the public courts at Moore Park northwest of downtown Miami.
"He didn't have to do it and didn't do it for publicity," recalls Bobby Curtis, who was tennis director at what is now called Ashe-Buchholz Tennis Center at Moore Park.
At the Arthur Ashe Middle School in Fort Lauderdale, students learn about the school's namesake simply by walking through the Arthur Ashe Patriot Hall on the second floor. It's lined with quotations from Ashe and from others about him, including former president Bill Clinton and James Blake, director of the Miami Open.
One Ashe quote also appears near his statue at the U.S. Open: "From what we can get we make a living; what we give, however, makes a life."
A player Ashe mentored from his hometown of Richmond, Rodney Harmon, became the second African-American to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals. He later served as a USTA National Coach in South Florida, was head men's tennis coach at the University of Miami, and was tennis director at Deeerwood Country Club in Jacksonville.
Harmon says Ashe "was someone who was of a different dynamic, because he transcended the sport ... He wasn't afraid to identify himself as an activist and make the world better for other people. Sometimes we are in the midst of angels and don't realize it until they're gone. We don't realize we're in the presence of greatness."