By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
RICHMOND– One afternoon in 1950, Arthur Ashe Jr. watched a man practice tennis on the courts outside his home near Brook Field Park on the city’s North Side.
The man invited Ashe to join him and asked if he wanted to learn how to play the game.
That man was Ron Charity, who worked patiently with Ashe for the next three years until he was good enough to be noticed by Dr. R. Walter Johnson, who invited Ashe to his summer camp in Lynchburg.
Unlike Richmond, where he couldn’t play anywhere other than Brook Field because of segregation, Ashe got the opportunity to play against better competition and went on to spend his senior year of high school in St. Louis
Ashe eventually became one of the best players in the world and is the first and only black man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Ashe also served as a U.S. Davis Cup captain and coach.
In recognition of Charity’s role in Ashe’s success, he will be inducted posthumously into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame, when the 2017 class is enshrined during a gala dinner and reception on Oct. 28 at the Westwood Club.
Charity died in 1991 at the age of 61, two years before Ashe passed away from complications of pneumonia brought on by the AIDS virus. Ashe had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion in 1983 that occurred during open-heart surgery.
Charity’s only child, Khris, recalls hearing his dad talk about his relationship with Ashe that started on the Brook Field courts.
In 1950, Charity was a part-time student at Virginia Union and a tennis instructor. He was one of the best black players in the country.
“My dad took him under his wing and taught him as far as he could,” said Khris Charity.
Ron Charity took Ashe to Lynchburg so he could learn more about the fundamentals of the game. He also entered Ashe in mostly black American Tennis Association tournaments, where he won the boys 12-and-under division when he was only 10.
“Dr. Johnson gave him the technical training he needed on the clay courts,” said Charity. “I remember seeing Althea Gibson there and some of the other top black players that came through to work with Dr. Johnson.”
Charity moved to Danville after Ashe left Richmond and helped former state champion Jim Milley develop his game.
Another contribution Charity made to the local scene was moving the city tournament from the Country Club of Virginia to Byrd Park in 1967.
Blacks couldn’t play at CCV then.
Ashe wrote in his book “Off the Court” following his Wimbledon triumph over Jimmy Connors in 1975, “Wimbledon represents the highest achievement in my craft.
“I reached the pinnacle of an effort that began with Ron Charity in 1950 on a playground in Richmond. It’s a long way from Brook Field to Wimbledon’s Centre Court.”