Pauline Betz Addie ’43, 1919-2011

Rollins and the World of Tennis Lose All-Time Great

Pauline Betz Addie ’43

Time magazine dubbed her “The First Lady of Tennis” in a cover story in 1946. The legendary Jack Kramer, with whom she played at Rollins College for two years, ranked her behind only Helen Wills Moody as the greatest female tennis player he had ever seen. Billie Jean King praised her in 2008, at the dedication of the Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center in Maryland, as “a woman who gave so much of herself to tennis and one of the greatest champions of our sport.” Rollins and the world of tennis lost an all-time great when Pauline Betz Addie ’43 died on August 2, 2011.

Born August 16, 1919 in Dayton, Ohio, Addie grew up in Los Angeles. She received her first tennis racket when she was nine and learned the game by hitting the ball against the family garage and on public courts. She attained her first national top-10 ranking as a high school senior in 1939.

That same year, Rollins became one of the first colleges in America to offer scholarships in women’s tennis. Addie received the first scholarship and went on to an illustrious college career. She played No. 4 on the men’s team (with Kramer at No. 1) and in 1941, she and Dorothy “Dodo” Bundy Cheney ’45 became the first American women to win the Australian Open in doubles.

Addie had another significant achievement that year: she reached the finals of the U.S. Nationals (now the U.S. Open), a feat she would accomplish for six consecutive years (winning from 1942-44 and in 1946). In the only year entered Wimbledon, 1946, she won without dropping a set. She also won the mixed doubles championship at the French Open that year.

Until 1968, there was no prize money in tennis, no lucrative product endorsements, and no clothing allowances. The day after winning Wimbledon in 1946, Addie was paid $12 for room and board and given a $5 per diem by USLTA to play in Sweden.

Addie lost the opportunity to extend her years of dominance when, in 1947, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association banned the amateur for discussing the possibility of going pro with her fiercest on-court rival, Sarah Palfrey Cooke. Addie had won 39 straight matches and was ranked first in the world, but the USLTA felt she had breached the rules. Many called her ban a travesty of justice, but Addie said, “I’m not going to sit in a corner and cry about this.”

She went on to spend 13 years playing exhibition games on the professional circuit, earning money for her talents but not able to play against the very best. In a 1959 exhibition, however, when she was five months pregnant with her fifth child, she defeated Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win a Grand Slam title.

In 1955, Addie became the first woman to be named club professional at Bethesda’s historic Edgemoor Tennis Club (former boyfriend Spencer Tracy was among her students there). Beginning in 1964, she ran a tennis camp at the Sidwell Friends School in the District, and she taught for 20 years in Bethesda at what is now the Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1965. She also became a Gold Life Master in bridge.

Addie was a bona fide celebrity, counting among her friends Jack Dempsey, Ed Sullivan, Katharine Hepburn, and Barbara Hutton. But according to friend and tennis coach Rob Amer, “She did not let stardom interfere with a deep kindness and genuine humility that balanced her fierce desire to win. Pauline’s focus has always been a quest for excellence, and in that spirit she has promoted tennis as a wonderful game for life. No matter what the odds, she would make the difficult seem effortless, and even more so when the chips were down.”

Addie played competitively into her 80s. She was predeceased by her husband, Bob Addie, who was a sports writer for the Washington Times-Herald and The Washington Post. She is survived by five children and five great-grandchildren.