Waller Horsley: A Hero for All of Community

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Waller Horsley: A Hero for All of Community

Waller Horsley had one of the sharpest legal minds – particularly in the field of estate planning and trust – in the city of Richmond, but he also lent his considerable skills to the tennis community, both on and off the court.

Horsley was instrumental in starting the men’s professional indoor tennis tournament in 1966 . The event enjoyed a 19-year run at the Arena and Coliseum before leaving town following the 1984 tournament.

“I couldn’t have done the tournament without Waller, let’s put it that way,” said Einwick.

“He was always legal counsel for the tournament. He was head referee for the tournament for numerous years. He was the one that everybody leaned on when we had to make a tough decision or things of that nature.

“Waller’s opinion was always the one that everybody sought out because it was always well-reasoned and probably the best option to take. I could never have run the tournament without him. He probably could have run the tournament without me but that’s another story.”

The two of them were responsible for bringing the best players in the world to Richmond, beginning in the amateur days (where motorcycles and TVs were the prizes) and going through big-money paydays that eventually led to the event closing shop here.

Einwick, as well as the Richmond community, lost one of their dearest friends when Horsley died on May 10. He was 85.

Horsley was one of the central characters in one of the most bizarre – and ugliest – incidents in the history of the local tournament.

In the early stages of the 1978 doubles final between Vitas Gerulaitis-Sandy Mayer and Bob Hewitt-Frew McMillan, there was a baseline call that Gerulaitis thought was in but was called out. The linesman wouldn’t yield to the chair umpire so the call stood.

Gerulaitis made his displeasure known to the linesman by slamming a ball that narrowly missed him. The linesman stood up and pointed at Gerulaitis, and was removed from the match at the request of Mayer.

When the linesman was replaced, five others walked off the court in protest, with the sellout crowd at the Coliseum in an uproar. One of the departing linesmen turned and gave Gerulaitis his middle finger, perhaps payback for the verbal abuse given to officials throughout the tournament.

Horlsey took much of the abuse from Gerulaitis, but his gentle manner and calm under fire stood him well on this occasion.

“I was in the locker room talking to John Newcombe,” said Einwick. “By the time I got there, Waller had gotten everybody calmed down and got the linesmen replaced and all those things. Just a very, very unfortunate set of circumstances.”

While he served the tournament with distinction for many years as the legal counsel and referee, Horsley was an excellent player.

Horsley was captain of the 1953 team at the University of Virginia, and won the state doubles title with his older brother, Shelton, in 1950. He was much better known for his doubles prowess than playing by himself, winning three state doubles championships in all.

“He had a terrific volley,” said Shelton, who won the state singles crown three times and the city once. “Let me put it this way: very quick hands. He could move that ball around and volley beautifully. When Waller was on his game, no one was a better volleyer than he was.

“As someone said when Waller and I were playing together, you, talking to me, made all the noise but he made all the points.”

Einwick pointed out that Horsley did more than just play tennis and help run the pro tournament.

“Waller took a sabbatical one summer to take a small group of RTA [Richmond Tennis Association] girls around to play national tournaments,” said Einwick. “How many people would spend their summer vacation doing that?”

One of those girls was Kathleen Cummings, who was just starting out on the junior tournament trail at 12 years old.

“He was a very caring, soft-spoken man,” said Cummings, who went on to play on the women’s pro circuit and reached the top 50 at one point in her career. “He was very generous with his time. He was very knowledgeable about the game.

“I remember him helping us in practice. Then, after our match, telling us different things that we might have been able to do differently. He was very encouraging, very positive. Never negative. Always had nice things to say. Always a cheerful man.

“He liked giving back because he loved the game, and I think that showed in how he wanted to help the tennis patrons association.”

Cummings said Horsley had a nickname for her, Mighty Mouse, because she was so young and small at the time.

“I always felt very comfortable with him,” she said. “It was a great first experience.”

Getting things done but staying in the background was Horsley’s trademark.

“You never knew he was around,” said Henry Valentine, a former city singles and doubles champion. “It wasn’t like he was grabbing all the headlines, so to speak. He was one of those guys behind the scenes doing wonderful stuff.”

One of those things was getting the RTA [first known as the Richmond Tennis Patrons Association] off the ground in 1954. Its purpose was to encourage the development of junior tennis in the Richmond area.

“Waller was one of the initial people who helped found the RTA,” said Einwick. “Waller wrote up both the articles of incorporation and bylaws for the RTA, which was one of the first community tennis associations in the country.

“I know for a fact that Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Lynchburg had Waller’s articles of incorporation and bylaws because I took them myself to Virginia Beach and Lynchburg. In fact, I went down to Virginia Beach when they were having their founding meeting.”

Horsley, who is a member of the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame, served as president of the RTA in 1969. He also served on the board of directors for a number of years. One of his sons, Stuart, followed him as president in 2007.

“As I told the Horsley family, if you ever wanted a song that was dedicated to Waller, it’s “The Wind Beneath my Wings,” when somewhere in there it says, ‘Did you ever know that you were my hero? And everything I would like to be?’

“I think that was Waller to the hilt. As I’ve told several people, Waller was the best man in my wedding but really he was the best man for all of us. I think anybody else who has dealt with Waller would tell you the same thing.”

In losing Horsley, on the heels of the death of Hugh Waters III last month, the Richmond community has now lost two of the most respected and dedicated people to the game of tennis around, and their presence in our midst will be sorely missed by anyone connected to the sport.