Arthur Ashe

February 09, 1993

Tennis made Arthur Ashe a celebrity. But it was his unwavering dedication to the guiding principles of his life that made him a great man, now mourned as one of those rare people who is not only admired around the world but also widely loved. Mr. Ashe's death Saturday, at age 49, was a loss for all the people who watched his graceful, brainy tennis. It was a more personal loss for the many others who benefited directly from his ceaseless efforts to make the world a better place. During the past year those efforts largely centered on AIDS, the disease that killed him.

Whether it was standing as an often-lonely symbol of black achievement in a mostly white sport or being arrested last fall in demonstrations protesting the Bush administration's treatment of Haitian refugees, Arthur Ashe wanted his celebrity to stand for something more than his own individual triumph. He succeeded with brilliance.

It is fitting for his body to lie in state at the executive mansion on the capital grounds in Richmond, Va., today prior to the funeral and burial tomorrow. Mr. Ashe grew up in Richmond and played his first game of tennis on the city's public courts. During his professional career, Mr. Ashe became the first black to win singles titles at Wimbledon, and in the U.S. and Australian Opens.

Arthur Ashe expanded the narrow boundaries of his sport by his own example and by such concrete projects as tennis programs for inner-city children in several cities. He always said his purpose in nurturing these efforts was larger than the game itself. He saw tennis not as just a game, or even a vehicle to stardom, but as a way to teach larger values of discipline, perseverance, fair play and other qualities that help children grow into successful adults, star athletes or not.

Last April, when press inquiries forced Mr. Ashe to disclose his AIDS diagnosis, he expressed anger at the loss of privacy. Yet it was characteristic of this modest, generous man that the anger did not become bitterness. On the contrary, Mr. Ashe turned it into a challenge, and in many ways the last year of his life became his most productive.

Arthur Ashe exemplified virtues that we like to think of as quintessentially American. He was enormously disciplined, and he translated his hard work into success. He was dedicated to causes larger than himself, but he refused to become arrogant or preachy. He taught by example, and even when he confronted a match he couldn't win, he accepted the challenge with memorable grace.

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