by Hilary Paul McGuire, USPTA
His full mane of neck-length silver hair bespoke his presence from afar. His imposing form hovered as a sentinel over the courts.
I showed him my newly-released book Tennis Saves: Stewart Orphans Take World By Racket. Though I’m a long-time USPTA pro, he didn’t know me from Adam. With scarcely a sidewise glance, he growled, “Everyone writes a book—too many books. Tennis books don’t sell, not even my Little Pancho.” Caroline Seebohm published that much-touted biography in 2009.
Pancho continued to gaze out over the nearly-empty, mid-week court complex. “Americans don’t play tennis any more. They’ve lost the hunger. We import all our players from Eastern Europe; those guys are hungry. Americans are too fat and lazy.”
“The Stewart sisters were certainly hungry,” I retorted. “They lost their father when they were four and six years of age.” He showed no indication of ever having heard of either Pat or Pam Stewart.
Just then Spencer came off the court. He’s still tall and handsome in his late 50’s or older. Father and son exchanged pleasantries and Pancho introduced me as Spencer wheeled him indoors to escape the early onset of a chilly January evening.
Inside the Bobby Riggs clubhouse, I introduced Pancho to Pam Stewart, one of the subjects of Tennis Saves. Pam is 77 and as loquacious as ever.
She immediately reminded Pancho of various events and people they had both known, mostly on the East Coast. She and Pancho got along like old friends. She had ball-girled for him soon after she began playing at age 10 in her home town of Indianapolis. Pam reminded him of how he, Bobby Riggs, Pancho Gonzalez, Gussy Moran, and Don Budge played an exhibition at a Butler University indoor facility.
Pam says, “I never ask a question unless I already know the answer.
So I asked him if the name Rumbough means anything to him.” Pam’s intimate history with Stanley Rumbough is detailed in Tennis Saves. She was well aware of how tennis has given Pancho, as it has Pam herself, familiarity with the rich and famous of American society.
Pam continues, “Pancho suddenly looked at me, as if recognizing a fellow insider. He had a long, huge smile on his face. At last he said, ‘Stanley Rumbough was one of my very best friends. He invited me to Washington, D.C. where he took me into the White House. He took me right in and introduced me to the President and retired General Dwight Eisenhower.’
“Pancho was obviously tickled to recall that day and his relationship with Stanley Rumbough who was co-founder in 1951 of the “Citizens for Eisenhower” movement. That organization was prominent in Ike’s election in 1952 and Stanley became a special assistant in the Eisenhower administration. When at Yale, Stan had been president of the Young Republicans club. Stanley was also captain of the Yale University tennis team.
“As our conversation progressed, Pancho revealed that he was in love with Stanley’s wife Dina Merrill. He said, ‘You can quote me on that.’
Pancho says he considered her the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Now 87, she was a very prominent actress besides being an heiress of the Post Cereals fortune. That was Pam’s opening to reveal to Pancho that she herself had been in love (not from afar, either) with Stanley Maddox Rumbough himself. Pam knew him in New York and in Palm Beach. A flood of names and events ensued between Pam and Pancho.
Pam reminded him of so many things and people that they chatted for another 45 minutes about many other of their mutual acquaintances such as world famous playboy Porfirio Rubirosa one of whose brief marriages involved Doris Duke, founder of Duke University.
Meanwhile Spencer Segura was closeted with Lorne Kuhle, current owner of the Riggs club and museum. After Pancho departed with his son Spencer, Lorne came out to talk. He added Tennis Saves to the Bobby Riggs Museum collection. The book has a wonderful photo of Pam Stewart hosting Bobby Riggs, Louise Brough, Gussy Moran and Don Budge when Pam was Director of Tennis at the Concord Resort in the Catskills.
Though Riggs and Segura had been friends on the tennis tour for many years, their lives became closely intertwined after Bobby established his club in Encinitas and Pancho became the pro at The La Costa Resort just five miles away. Thus they were neighboring pros for nearly 25 years until Riggs passed away at age 77 in 1995.
Now that Pancho is retired and Bobby is deceased, Pancho seems to prefer the memories and atmosphere at the Bobby Riggs club where he spends much of his club-time leisure, especially since his step-son Gary Young is still one of the teaching pros there.
Hilary McGuire, a 42-year member of the USPTA, is also author of two books about his work trying to help Chicano gang members get jobs and education. Gussy Moran helped him coach Hopie and the Los Homes Gang (title of his first book also available on Amazon.com).