President Jimmy – the Tennis Connection

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

Yesterday the longest living American president, 98-year old Jimmy Carter, entered hospice care after four years of battling cancer. He will no longer be receiving medical intervention. 

His admirers loved Carter and saw him as a warm, good-hearted man who led with compassion during and long after his presidency. When he received the 2002 Nobel Peace prize, Carter said, “The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices.” 

His critics, who were many, recalled rampant inflation, high gas prices, and a failed rescue effort in Iran, and insisted the one term president wasn’t nearly strong enough. 

Inside Tennis remembers approaching the 39th president at the US Open, where the affable leader conceded, with a twinkle in his eye, that his wife Rosalynn was the best tennis player in the family. 

Along with his young wide-eyed daughter Amy, the president once visited the tennis camp of Stanford women’s coach Frank Brennan in Pennsylvania. A

His chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, went on to become the Executive Director of the ATP. He told Inside Tennis that tennis politics was far more vicious than Washington politics. 

But when it came to tennis, Carter was most famous for micromanaging the tennis court at the White House. An article in the Atlantic by a former aide, James Fallow, was full of great praise for Carter, but it added that he’d personally approve requests to play on the court. This was said to be an example of a detail man mired in minutiae and used to running his own show.

President Carter with the best tennis player in the family. Photo by Getty Images

When it was reported that Carter had entered a hospice, Chris Evert referred to the time when, at 95, Carter suffered a fractured hip, but returned the next day to actively work for his widely praised Habitat for Humanity charity. She noted that Carter was “all about giving…a stellar human being.”

Martina Navratilova directed a tweet to Carter, saying, “You are one of a kind in every good way possible.”

On a personal note, years ago, my oldest sister Joan used to tease me mercilessly by calling me Billy. One day she again joked with me. In a huff I stomped out of the room, only to run into my 99-year-old Aunt Claire, who was shaking her head in dismay. “What’s wrong Aunt Claire?” I asked. “Goodness!” she shrugged. “They’re actually considering a fellow named Jimmy to run for president. We can’t have a president named Jimmy!”

BTW: with all due respect to baseball great Jimmie Foxx, who hit 58 home runs in 1932, and football broadcaster Jimmy Jones, tennis can claim the best athlete ever named Jimmy – our Jimmy Connors. Evert’s wise, gentle dad Jimmy was one of the best sporting fathers ever. And Jimmy Arias is the best tennis player in Buffalo history.

And that gets us around to the Buffalo Cafe in Plains, Georgia. The most famous restaurant on Main Street in Carter’s home town features a mural of the former leader of the free world, whom few would consider the best president in history, and who wasn’t even the best tennis player in his family. But nevertheless, this gentle, generous man is beloved by many.

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