A Portal Into a Tennis Legend’s Life
You would think a man as busy, established and pro-active as Arthur Ashe wouldn’t have time to sit down and hand write his goings-on.
But just the opposite is true.
Ashe was a prolific recorder of events big and small in his life, as we’ve been privy to learn. He kept daily planners every single year of his career, from his momentous wins at Wimbledon and Davis Cup, to his ceaseless humanitarian initiatives throughout the rest of his life.
In our current auction, we have an incredible collection of Arthur Ashe items from his personal estate. As a portal to the daily events of the tennis legend’s life, we are auctioning his yearly day-planners spanning his momentous career, from 1970 onward.
His 1972 day planner is particularly interesting as this was the year Ashe drew international attention to apartheid’s encroachment into world sports in South Africa. Two years earlier, Ashe had applied for entry into the South Africa Open as the top-ranked American in tennis, but he was denied a visa into the country. Public outcry resulted in South Africa’s expulsion from the International Lawn Tennis Federation and the Davis Cup — and Ashe was admitted the following year and won doubles with Tom Okker.
A few years later in his 1975 day planner, Ashe notates his upcoming Wimbledon tournament — on the 23 June page, Ashe hand-writes, “WIMBLEDON STARTS”. This a historic record, as Ashe became the first African-American man to ever win the important tennis tournament.
Arthur Ashe’s 1979 day planner is life-changing to his career as he suffered from a heart attack this year, forcing him to retire from professional tennis. On 13 December 1979, Ashe underwent a quadruple bypass surgery — he marks ”HEART OPERATION” in block letters on the 13 December entry.
For many, this could have been career-ending, but for Ashe, it became an opportunity. Ashe began to transition his superstar tennis career into the realm of public service, becoming an advocate of many social causes — causes that were ceaseless until the end of his life — and that he documented on the daily.
His 1988 day planner journal exemplifies this change in his life, and also notates the private health crises he was enduring. Ashe contracted HIV in a blood transfusion during heart surgery and learned of the condition late in 1988. He wouldn’t disclose he had AIDS publicly until 1992, when he became an activist in the anti-AIDS effort.
Medically, notes that start simply as ”high blood pressure” and ”Niacin 1000 mg 3x/day” progress to ”Stephens-Johnson Syndrome”, ”blood test” and on 1 November he notes ”Out of Hospital”. It contains a reminder to ”pick up Pentamidine”, a drug used to prevent pneumonia in AIDS patients.
After his experience in 1972, Ashe became involved in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa when he called for the country’s removal from the major tennis leagues due to its discriminatory policies.
Arthur Ashe’s 1990 day planner commemorates the progression of the country as Ashe records, ”MANDELA RELEASED!!” on that famous day in February. Later he notes, ”NELSON MANDELA ARRIVES” and ”South African visa application”.
This 1992 planner is of particular significance as it includes the 8 April 1992 day which he announced publicly he had contracted the HIV virus. On that day, Ashe writes ”HIV PRESS” boldly across the date page.
Ashe’s 1993 day planner is his last, as Ashe passed away on 6 February that year. On 3 February he has a chest x-ray scheduled and on 5 February, the day before he died from AIDS-related pneumonia, he writes ”Olympic Mtg. Cancellation”.