This hand-held eulogy was read at Ashe’s funeral.
Tennis champion Arthur Ashe was the only black man to win Wimbledon and the United States and Australian Opens. But he was much more than a sports figure; his life was dedicated to helping others. Since he believed his singular success carried inherent responsibilities, Ashe, during his decade-long professional tennis career and...
Tennis champion Arthur Ashe was the only black man to win Wimbledon and the United States and Australian Opens. But he was much more than a sports figure; his life was dedicated to helping others. Since he believed his singular success carried inherent responsibilities, Ashe, during his decade-long professional tennis career and beyond it, dedicated himself to dismantling the barriers of poverty, privilege, racism and social stereotyping. His projects included creation of inner-city tennis programs for youths in Newark, Detroit, Atlanta, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and other cities.
Ashe, who said he believed he contracted H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, through a transfusion of tainted blood during heart-bypass surgery in 1983, first learned of his infection in 1988. He spent the final year of his life seeking to broaden public awareness on the subject of AIDS by raising money for AIDS research. He created the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. The Arthur Ashe Learning Center is named for him. Militant in his convictions but mild in his manner, this slim, bookish and bespectacled athlete was widely liked and admired.
Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia on February 6, 1993, at age 49, and his body lay in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia. There were more than 6,500 people in Richmond’s Arthur Ashe Athletic Center for his funeral on February 10, sitting, standing, fanning themselves with programs on a warm winter day and stopping to wipe their eyes with handkerchiefs. While tennis figures like Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Pancho Segura, Yannick Noah, Charlie Pasarell, Bob Lutz, Donald Dell and Dennis Ralston, among others, were in attendance, so were Ron Brown, the Secretary of Commerce; Senators Bill Bradley and Charles Robb; Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ethel Kennedy, Mayor David N. Dinkins of New York and LeRoy Walker, president of the United States Olympic Committee. A letter from President Clinton was read, saying that Ashe’s life "represents the very best of America."
This is that very letter, which was read aloud at the funeral. Typed address signed, on White House letterhead, Washington, February 10, 1993. “To the family and friends of Arthur Ashe: Together we gather to mourn the death of our friend Arthur Ashe. Our Nation has suffered a great loss by the passing of this great leader. He lived his life gently but courageously, and we will miss him. I enjoyed my visits with Arthur and was always awed by the dignity and depth of commitment he demonstrated in the months before his death. I only wish time had allowed me to know him better. Arthur Ashe's life represents the very best of America–an opportunity to work hard and to succeed. His life also represents the responsibility we all have to give something back to our Nation. Arthur gave of himself tirelessly for many years. His contributions to education and to the cause of human rights will serve as an inspiration to all, My friend Arthur Ashe will be missed." This letter was deaccessioned by the Ashe estate.
Clinton posthumously awarded Ashe the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States.
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