Heaths to receive Edwin Goodman Family of the Year award
For someone who has dedicated more than five decades of his life to the sport of tennis, Richard Heath's initial involvement in the sport was a bit unorthodox. Looking ro a summer job after his freshman year at Colgate University, where he played football and hockey, Heath accepted a position at the Ridgewood, N.J. recreation department as director of tennis - a game he had never actually played.
"I was fortunate that the No. 1-ranked player at Hope College lived across the street in the summer and was willing to give me some pointers," said Heath. "At the end of the three years I was able to beat him. That's where my involvement with tennis really started."
Now, more than 50 years later, heath is patriarch of a Jamestown, R.I.-based family that includes six children and 12 grandchildren, all of whom have embraced and excelled at the sport of tennis. To honor all of the contributions of the Heaths, USTA New England will present the family with the prestigious Edwin Goodman Family of the Year award at a June 6 ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
Heath began playing in tournaments in 1955, and the following year won his first. He has since claimed more than 100 tournament victories in double with 25 different partners, and has held the No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles seven times.
His favorite surface to play on is grass, which is fitting given that one of his most memorable matches took place there. In 1972, Heath entered the National Grass Court Championships in Philadelphia as an unseeded player and ended up advancing all the way to the semifinal, where he faced the infamous Bobby Riggs.
"That was my most memorable match," said Heath. "I will always remember that tournament. In the first round, I had beaten a good friend of Riggs who was seeded fourth at the tournament. Riggs got up the night of the tournament dinner and made some disparaging remarks about me beating him." Riggs defeated Heath in the semi and went on to win the tournament.
It is no surprise that Heath's children also developed a passion for the game. Jeffrey, Scott, Steve, Tim, Susan and James all played in the top position on their high school tennis teams, with three continuing their tennis careers at college. Susan played in the No. 1 spot at Simmons College, Steve captained the Colgate University tennis team and Tim played on the Boston University team.
All six are still involved with tennis in one way or another, but probably none more than Tim, who was recently elected president of USTA Eastern. "That was a nice feather in his cap," said Heath. "Tim recently told me that for a guy who has a job, he probably plays more tennis than anyone else in the United States - he plays six days a week!"
While the family lives in different states, they do reunite every summer for some quality time, which naturally includes a lot of tennis." We have a watering hole in Jamestown, and we are all there in the summer. We play a lot of tennis, both doubles and mixed doubles, and we have a good time. Plus, I get to see my grandchildren play." Heath is very proud of the fact that all 12 of his grandchildren have taken up the game.
While he does not play in as many tournaments as he used to, Heath does still compete in fatherdaughter tournaments with his daughter, Susan. "This past year, Susan and I were ranked seventh in the U.S. in the Father 80 and over - Daughter championships. She is a very good player."
In addition to playing in tournaments, Heath is also a very active volunteer in the tennis community. He has served on the New England Senior Tennis Foundation Board since its founding and currently acts as treasurer. He also served on the New England Senior Tennis Foundation board and is the director of the Williamstown Tournament. Heath was recognized with the USTA New England Gardner Ward Chase Memorial Award in 2002 and was inducted into the USTA New England Hall of Fame in 2007.
"Being inducted into the Hall of Fame was very meaningful for me because all of my children and grandchildren were there, which made it a wonderful experience," said Heath. "Obviously it was rewarding for me because I have been involved with tennis for so long, running tournaments, being in tournaments and being parts of different clubs. I just felt wonderful that I was given that award."
The fact the that the Edwin Goodman award will recognize both Heath and his family will no doubt make the honor even sweeter.
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in USTA Magazine and has been reprinted with permission.