9-13-2013 - Remembering Arthur Ashe

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The United States Tennis Open is now history. Rafa Nadal and Serena were worthy champions. Djokovic and Azarenka gave it their best. The Arthur Ashe Stadium delivered some of its finest tennis. But it was a short article in the New York Times that made me reminisce about a man who touched me deeply many years ago.

This year the attendees at the U.S. Open could also drop by and visit “The Arthur Ashe Inspirational Tour”, which was put together lovingly by Arthur’s widow, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, which was a collection of his books, quotes, causes he was involved in and memorabilia.

I had the pleasure of meeting Arthur Ashe in 1993 when I was the Executive Director of the World Federation of Hemophilia. It was a time when AIDS still was a word with a questionable, prejudicial meaning and connotation. Ashe had gone public with the fact that he had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion while he was in hospital with heart problems.

The Federation had organized a lecture series in conjunction with McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Arthur Ashe had agreed to be the key speaker. As always, in his quiet voice, he delivered a very moving presentation regarding the need to shed our prejudices, treat everybody with respect, and get rid of our anger regarding AIDS.

When his speech was over, he quietly approached me and asked whether it would be alright if he did not stay for dinner. He was hoping to get the last flight out of Montreal to La Guardia. He explained that he tried as much as he could to get home every night to tuck his little daughter in her bed and kiss her goodnight. He made it home that night to tuck her in. Two weeks later I was shocked to read that he had died.

I am reminded today of the words of the great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney: “The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life”. Arthur Ashe had his priorities right. He lived his life boldly.