The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay is one of the funniest newspaper columnists around. (See here for further details.)
But his piece in Friday’s Journal was more poignant than piquant, since it was a valediction for his father, Ward Gay.
From Dad, a Game for Life
“Run with your racket back,” Dad would say. “Be ready for anything.”
It’s a message I never forgot. For 40 years, my father, Ward Gay, was a tennis coach, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass., the city where he grew up. When he started, rackets were wood. The No. 1 men’s player in the world was Ilie Nastase. My dad studied tennis bibles written by Rod Laver, Bud Collins and Harry Hopman, and taught himself the rest through years of little victories and mistakes.
He liked natural gut string, one-handed backhands, the serve-and-volley, the chip-and-charge. He was also a science teacher at the high school, and he enjoyed how tennis was a game that rewarded mental acuity as well as physical skill. His favorite tennis maxim was the well-known adage he borrowed and passed on to every player: You’re only as good as your second serve.
Ward Gay lost his match with pancreatic cancer about a week ago. This could be his epitaph: “He loved to teach a student a sport he could play for the rest of his life.”
But this is his sendoff from his sons.
Last Thursday, Aug. 21, in a Boston hospital that overlooked a pair of beautifully ragged tennis courts on the Charles River, my dad died. He was 70 years old.
The next day, my brother and I walked down the street to the courts we grew up on. We pulled out a couple of our father’s old rackets we’d uncovered in the garage, and hit like we used to hit when we were young. Dad had given us and so many others a sport we could play for the rest of our lives, but his reach was much more than that. We ran with our rackets back, ready for anything.