RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — The pinnacle of professional success for Arthur Ashe arrived on a grass court at Wimbledon in England, but the tennis star’s foundation was set firmly in Richmond.
“I knew him from the time he started school till the time he left,” Stuart “Moe” Thacker, who remembers his childhood friend’s talent at an early age, said. “He was the best player in Richmond and the men who played could not beat him. Even at age 12 they couldn’t beat him.”
As budding tennis players, Stuart and Arthur would hit endless tennis balls well into the night.
“We could not play at Byrd Park because of segregation,” Thacker said.
Moe says his friend would never forget his roots.
“All the time he was available he would always come to his class reunion that is the class of 1961 at Maggie Walker High School,” he said.
The tennis courts where Arthur Ashe honed his skills and his home at Brookfield have all disappeared from the landscape. Replaced by the main post office on Brook Road near Virginia Union University.
Ashe died on Feb. 6, 1993 from Aids after receiving a tainted blood transfusion.
Sports heavyweights like Dick Schapp and Bryant Gumble, along with throngs of Richmonders, filed past his casket at the executive mansion and funeral at the complex named in his honor.
In 1996, after much controversy, Richmond’s native son would forever take his place on Monument Avenue.
Mary Lauderdale with the Black History Museum said his prowess on the court and activism off should be a source of pride for black and white in the River City.
“Just a walking testament to what one person can do,” Lauderdale said. “To be known nationally and internationally and that this person came from Richmond, Virginia is a great thing.”
Radio sports host and Petersburg native Al Coleman admires Ashe’s intestinal fortitude overcoming tremendous adversity.
“Arthur Ashe was all about civility and honor and high character and raising the bar,” Coleman said. “This is a guy who was from here. People accomplish things from all across the world but when they accomplish things and they’re from your own backyard you feel a little more proud of people like that.”
Two decades have come and gone since Ashe’s passing, but Thacker wants everyone to remember his friend whose character was a strong as his serve.
“I believe people other than myself and his classmates and everyone he came into contact with played with think about him and what he did,” he said.