McBride, Koechlein Gone But Not Forgotten

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Two of the people honored with their induction into this year’s class of the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame are no longer with us. But their talents and accomplishments will never be forgotten by those who knew them.

Penelope Anderson McBride and Fred Koechlein will join the list of inductees on Oct. 19 in a ceremony and dinner at the Westin Hotel. Tickets ($75) for the event are available through the sponsoring Richmond Tennis Association.

Ironically, both died a few months apart in 1993, leaving behind many pleasant memories on and off the court.

McBride was the best female player to ever emerge from the city, although she came along well before the Open era. A member of the U.S. Wightman Cup squad in 1927, McBride was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country that year and was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Nationals five times.

“She attributed everything in her life that was important to tennis, including meeting her husband [Frederick McBride] in Bermuda and having her children, the whole bit,” said Molly Felton, one of her two daughters. “She played until she was in her late ‘80s.”

McBride began playing the game when she was eight, honing her early skills against the garage door at her home on Three Chopt Road, near the Country Club of Virginia, where she learned to play doubles with her friend, Elizabeth Warren.

“I don’t think Mom ever had a lesson and she was very proud of that,” said Molly. “She was very athletic and was a tomboy. I think it went from there and she just loved the game. Her mother would take her and chaperone her all over the East, playing on the circuit.”

McBride and Warren won the National Girls’ Doubles (18-under) title in 1919, and McBride was on her way. By 1926, she was ranked 12th in the nation and, in 1928, traveled to Europe with the legendary Helen Wills Moody, playing with her in exhibition doubles matches.

In addition to the Wightman Cup, McBride played several times at Wimbledon and the French championships.

“She lived tennis,” said Molly, who now lives in Falmouth, Me. “She really did. It was her whole life.”

The Anderson Cup, an annual competition between CCV, Farmington CC, Princess Anne CC and the Norfolk Yacht and CC, was named for McBride and her sister, Margaret Anderson Duval, a seven-time singles champion of the city tournament.

“What she was really so good at was anticipating and placing the ball from the net, just wherever you weren’t,” said Pencie Huneke, her other daughter who lives in Englewood, Fla. “She used to give me a point on every game, until she grew older and I got better.”

A mixed doubles tournament is still conducted in her memory near Englewood, and the Penelope Anderson McBride Ladies Doubles Cup is given each year at the Short Hills Club in Short Hills, N.J., where she and her husband lived for over 50 years.

“She wanted the younger set to get interested in tennis, so she would hold tennis clinics for the children every morning of their spring vacation,” said Pencie. “She did the same thing during the war [WWII] at the Short Hills Club, when our professional was called to active service. She took over the tennis clinics.”

Pencie said the highlight of her mother’s career was being on the Wightman Cup team and touring Europe with Helen Wills.

Koechlein, meanwhile, wasn’t a Richmond native, but made his impact felt as soon as he became the head pro at CCV in 1959. He quickly earned a reputation for demanding good manners on the court and disciplined training from his young proteges.

“I took a lot of lessons from Mr. Koechlein,” said Lindsay Wortham, three-time city singles champion. “He was really good with everything. But it was much more than just learning tennis. He taught us all life lessons.

“Every one of us that came through during those 10 or 15 years certainly had a huge impact from Mr. Koechlein. He was like a Prussian general. He made us toe the line. You didn’t throw your racquet and you didn’t yell out on the court.”

Koechlein directed the construction of CCV’s first indoor courts in the late 1960s. In 1973, he left CCV and joined Virginia All Weather Tennis for a while. He also worked at Raintree Swim and Racquet Club before joining Willow Oaks Country Club as the head pro in 1978.

“He taught all of us solid ground strokes,” said Wortham. “He taught us tennis was a lifetime sport. The whole reason we wanted to be at the club all day was Mr. Koechlein. We went to his house for cookouts. He taught us to play bridge. It was way more than just tennis.

Koechlein retired in 1985 and moved to Largo, Fla., where he passed away in 1993.

“He took his job seriously,” said Betty Gustafson, twice a runner-up in the city tournament. “He wanted to see the kids improve. He wanted to make sure whatever he taught you would be ingrained in your mind and you could do it.

“I thought he was a wonderful teacher. He taught me all I knew. He didn’t stand for any foolishness. Whenever you went out on the court to play tennis, he wanted you to represent the game in an excellent manner.”

When Koechlein died, another student, Bobby Bayliss, said, “He taught me a great deal about the game of tennis: tactics, strategy and mechanics. But more importantly, he taught me the value of the work ethic and a sense of fair play.

“No one that came in contact with him was untouched by his presence, drive and devotion to the game of tennis,” added Bayliss, who recently retired as the coach of the men’s team at Notre Dame. He also coached at the Naval Academy and MIT.