Waters Made Sure Everyone Enjoyed the Game

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Waters Made Sure Everyone Enjoyed the Game

When it came to preaching the gospel of tennis in Richmond, Hugh Waters III had few if any peers.

Whether it was by email, over the telephone or an up-close-and-personal visit, Waters was able to get his message about the game he loved so much across to thousands of players throughout the metropolitan area.

It’s probably not much of a stretch to say that many of those swinging a racquet right now owe their game either to the tutelage of Waters or from those who learned under Waters and are passing on that knowledge to others.

Along with the legendary Sam Woods, who taught the game to a generation of top players in the area from the 1940s until his death in 1963, Waters was truly one of the most influential people in the sport in our town.

“I think Hugh has to be remembered as one of, if not the outstanding leader in tennis in Richmond,” said Lou Einwick, who directed the men’s professional indoor tournament here for 19 years. “If not the leading tennis light in Richmond, certainly in the top three.”

That light was extinguished on April 24 when Waters died after a brief illness. He was 84 and lived an exceptional life.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. on May 2 at St. James Episcopal Church.

Westwood is one of the clubs that Waters served as a head pro and director of tennis during his years in Richmond after arriving in 1970. Following the Florida native to town was another familiar name to local tennis fans, former city champion Tom Magner.

Waters and Magner met when Magner was 12 and Waters was the director of tennis at the Orlando Tennis Club. Magner did odd jobs around the club in exchange for lessons from Waters, who had played collegiately at the University of Florida.

“After my senior year [in college], I wanted to play tournaments, but he wanted me to work for him again,” said Magner, who has been the head pro at Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club for the past 30 years. “He said he’d give me time off to play tournaments if I worked for him.

“So I said, ‘OK, OK, as long as you give me time off.’ So after I commit to work, guess what he says? ‘I don’t live in Florida any more, I live in Richmond, Virginia.’ So that’s how I wound up at Westwood as his assistant.”

Waters had gotten the job at Westwood, largely because his old tennis-playing teammate, Del Moser, was on the board of directors.

Magner is one of many teaching pros in Richmond — and beyond — who are proteges of Waters.

“If I had gone to play tournaments that summer, I might never have become a tennis pro,” said Magner. “I might have gotten some other type of job. He was like a father to me in Florida because I didn’t have a father [he had died].

“He developed a lot of people into teaching pros, and now everybody has a nice job because of him.”

Two of the most prominent locally are Damian Sancilio at Courtside West and Cris Robinson, the head pro at Willow Oaks Country Club. Others who honed their games in the junior program were Mark Vines, Junie Chatman, Kathleen Cummings, Neal Carl, Tommy Cain, Wade McGuire, Rodney Harmon, John DePew, Betty Baugh Harrison, and the list goes on.

Waters accomplished much more than just teaching the game to a young crop of juniors, as the years ahead proved.

After five years at Westwood, Waters founded the Richmond Tennis Academy off Staples Mill Road in Henrico County in 1976 with Ward Hamilton. Hundreds, if not thousands learned the game in an old, converted warehouse.

“There were all kinds of academies out there,” said Hamilton, who later bought the Robious Sports and Fitness Center on the Southside . “There was so much growth in the game at that point in time. This was the 1970s. Tennis was exploding.

“We were chatting about it one day in the pro shop, and this guy gave us his card and said I might have something for you. So we looked at it and thought about it and decided to take it. We opened it in the spring of 1976.

“When Westwood caught wind of it, they assumed that Hugh was leaving and they announced he was leaving. The intention was I would be there to run it, and Hugh was golng to help. But that’s not how it turned out. I think it all worked out for the best.”

Waters and Hamilton, with Magner’s help, worked night and day at the academy, teaching the game to anyone who wanted to learn, from novices to pros. The Richmond Tennis Patrons Association junior program went through there for several years.

“I think we counted at one point in time that we taught over 5,000 people in a year,” said Hamilton.

The academy stayed in business until 1979, and by that time, Waters had bought Raintree Swim and Racquet Club, which he turned into one of the premier facilities in the area before selling it about 10 years later in 1987.

  “I think his biggest contribution, in my opinion,” said Hamilton, “was his dedication to the overall game. He never focused on any one element. He focused on all the elements. He tried to do them all awfully well. He was all about tennis.

“A lot of us stray. I’ve been a golfer for a while. We find other things to do. Hubie never did that. He was involved in every aspect of the game. He was a member of the patrons program [RTPA, now Richmond Tennis Association] for many, many years.”

Waters, in fact, served as the president of the RTA for two years from 2009-10.

“I would say he was one of the top promoters of the game there ever was,” said Hamilton, who probably wasn’t far off the mark with his bold assessment. “In terms of tournaments, in terms of events, just in terms of the game in general.”

Along those lines was what Waters called the “World’s Largest Tennis Tournament,” which attracted over 2,000 entries to a draw that played out all over town in the summer of 1983 and culminated with the final at The Arena, won by Tony Velo, another of Waters’ pupils.

Waters tried to get the Guinness Book of Records to recognize as the largest tournament ever held but they never did.

“His indelible impression forever will be his promotion of the game,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton pointed out that he and Waters once taught – at Waters’ urging — a group of learning disability children the game for a couple of years. “They just loved doing it,” Hamilton recalled. “We had a ball with them.

“That showed the depth of his character. He would promote tennis on any level. I think that’s what endeared him to everybody. He was every man’s pro. He would do anything. He loved [teaching] the game to the masses.

“He’s going to be deeply missed by everybody.”

That would include all those juniors, many of them now teaching pros themselves, who learned the game from him.

“He was a fun pro,” said Vines, who went on to enjoy a career on the professional tour before turning to teaching and is now at a club in Naples, Fla. “He knew how to motivate us. Technically speaking, he probably wasn’t the greatest but he knew how to challenge us.

“He brought out the best in us and we had fun doing it. That’s one of the big reasons the junior tennis program in Richmond became so large and influential was that he had his hand in it. But he helped everybody, at all different levels, not just juniors, the adults too.”

Vines said he will never forget the day that Waters informed him that he couldn’t help him anymore.

“I was working with him privately, and we finished up, and he said, ‘Mark, I think we’re done.’ And I said, “No, we’ve got 5 or 10 more minutes,’ but he said, ‘No, I think we’re done. I’ve taught you everything I can teach you. I can’t help you anymore.’

“How many tennis pros will actually tell a kid, ‘You’re too good for me. I can’t help you.’ That’s how honest he was. He communicated so well with the kids. We all respected him for his time that he gave us. There’s going to be a void we’re all going to miss quite a bit.”

Waters was proud of all of his children, three of whom became excellent players. His son, Hugh Waters IV, better known as “Hoofy,” won the state singles title in 1982 and the city crown in 1983. His daughter, Margie, is an outstanding doubles player.

The Waters family also adopted Flo Bryan, and she won three consecutive city singles titles from 1972-74 and was runner-up in 1975.

In 2000, the Waters family was honored with the U.S. Tennis Association Family of the Year Award for its dedication and contributions to the game. A well-deserved honor to be sure after everything they meant to the community over the years.

After moving back to Florida for several years, Waters spent his final years between Florida and Richmond, returning to town when the weather warmed up in the spring. He was still a member at Westwood, and the club started a mixed doubles tournament in his honor in 2014.

Waters also made sure everyone on his email list received a daily or weekly dose of informative and motivational (sometimes comical) material from “Captain Tennis,” as he referred to himself whenever he decided to pass along some knowledge.

When the city family mixed doubles tournament needed someone to run it in recent years, Waters gladly accepted the role. He had planned to be at Byrd Park this year, on May 13, but only in an emeritus role.

“He didn’t like the way anybody else wanted to run it, so he said just let me do it,” said Fred Bruner, former RTA president. “He took it over, did it his way and got good crowds out there. I expect we’ll have a big crowd this year. Make it a big party to celebrate Hugh Waters.”

One of the biggest things people will remember about Waters was his infectious smile. He might give you a little frown if he thought you weren’t doing something right, but he would always flash that big grin before it was over.

That showed not only his love of the game but how much he appreciated you taking part in it.

“Tennis was his love and he did great things for tennis in Richmond, and I think he’ll be sorely missed,” said Einwick.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the RTA, Hugh Waters III Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 17612, Richmond, Va., 23226.

Link to obituary