Harmon Thrived from Ties with RTA

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Harmon Thrived from Ties with RTA

The Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame held its biennial induction ceremonies on Oct. 28 at the Westwood Club, and one of its own served as the keynote speaker for the festive evening that saw seven new members added to the illustrious list.

Rodney Harmon, who was inducted in 2009, passed over his prepared remarks and gave a wonderful off-the-cuff talk about how his life was changed by all those who had helped him with tennis and life, and he urged the group to keep doing the same for others.

“It might sound weird but just keep doing the things you’ve been doing with the same spirit and love that you do it with,” said Harmon, who is now the women’s coach at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “It really transmits and permeates very deeply.

“I don’t know if you guys feel it, but for me, it’s very, very special. I just want to congratulate you guys on doing such amazing work.”

With plenty of help from the RTA, Harmon rose from the city’s North Side to become an NCAA doubles champion and a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. As a touring pro, Harmon was ranked in the world’s top 50 at one point.

Just one example of what the RTA has been able to accomplish during its long history of helping juniors develop their games.

Among those being inducted posthumously was Ron Charity, who is widely regarded as the one who taught Arthur Ashe the finer points of the game when he was just learning how to play tennis on the segregated courts near his home at Brookfield Park on the North Side.

Charity also had an effect on Harmon, who served as director of men’s tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association for several years.

“On occasion, he would come to town when I was growing up and I got to meet him and talk to him,” said Harmon. “What was great about him is he would take time to talk to us about working on your game, and the importance of working in school as well.

“Being a good person and being fair and being honest. So when I saw where he was coming into the Hall of Fame, I was very happy.”

Harmon also brought up past Hall of Fame inductee Fred Keochlein, who was the head pro at the Country Club of Virginia when Harmon was growing up.

“He watched me play at the Thalhimers [city] tournament,” said Harmon. “He saw me and told me, ‘I would like to help you.’ He wanted to give me lessons and I told him I couldn’t afford it. He said he was happy to give me free lessons.

“He would teach me about my game, talk about competition. He was just one of those great people who was just phenomenal. There are so many people like that in Richmond who work through the RTA to help you in so many different ways.”

Harmon said he always brings up Richmond and the RTA whenever he has speaking engagements across the country.

“When I tell people about Richmond, and I’m very proud to be from Richmond and very proud of what we have accomplished in Richmond,” said Harmon, “They say it wasn’t like that when I was growing up and I say let me tell you about Richmond.

“If you love tennis, there is someone in Richmond who will help you, no matter if you’re from Battery Park, Bon Air, St. Christopher’s, wherever. If you play tennis, no matter what color, creed or background, there are people who want to help you.

“Whatever you are trying to do, they just want to give you an opportunity.”

Another highlight was a few comments from Patricia Hunt, who credited Charity for having a profound effect on her life. She rose from being a stage director for the Miss Teen-age Virginia pageant to become a nationally known TV anchor.

“You know what humbles me personally is that I can say that the same man who mentored Arthur Ashe mentored me,” said Hunt. “From Podunk [actually Cascade, in southside Virginia] America. I thank God I ran into Ronald J. Charity and his wife.”

Other inductees included Bill Barnes, Martha Beddingfield, Rachel Gale, Joe and Shima Grover, Sarah Townsend Harrison (posthumously) and the Country Club of Virginia for the generous use of its facilities by the RTA over the years.

The RTA’s next class of inductees is scheduled for the fall of 2019. Be sure to visit the Hall of Fame room the next time you are at Westwood to get an up close and personal look at all of the Hall of Fame members.