Pam Shriver has a new calling: mommy
End of Tennis Challenge gives her more time for her kids
Baltimore native Pam Shriver has been a Hall of Fame professional tennis player and an advocate for her hometown for more than half her 48 years. But Wednesday night at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, she will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her Tennis Challenge, which has raised millions for children's charities, and then close the door on that chapter of her successful life.
What does her future hold? Can everyone say "Mommy"?
When you talk to her now, she is usually sitting in a carpool line, helping with homework, making plans for participating at her kids' classroom activities or signing up for parent education courses -- how to interest your kids in reading, how to deal with children when they are angry.
"I am spending an awful lot of time doing things with my kids' school," said Shriver, the mother of George, 6, and twins Kate and Sam, 5. "I do a lot of school volunteer work. I like it. I volunteered to help with the Halloween Festival, and I'm taking two pies for the Thanksgiving Festival."
"I'm not baking," she laughs. "We will purchase. I have not turned into a chef. But my future is all about the three kids and volunteering at their schools. My little girl loves to dance. She spins around the house and loves to play music. All three of them enjoy art. My house looks like a museum for kids' artwork. It's everywhere.
"By the time I was 6, George's age, I was already playing club tennis and there was a bit of a spark in me. I keep an eye out for the spark. What is their spark?"
In 25 years, life evolves. Over that time Shriver played half her pro career; was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame; endured the deaths of her sister, Marion, her first husband, Joe Shapiro, and her father, Sam; celebrated the births of three children; dealt with the end of her six-year marriage to actor George Lazenby, a former James Bond; and developed a strong broadcasting career with ESPN, which will continue into the future as well.
She also has seen the Tennis Challenge raise more than $4million for cystic fibrosis and children's charities and go from a relatively easy project to put together when the pro tennis tours used to wrap up in New York to what it had become the past few years, a stress-filled, monthslong project in which she would try to persuade players to crisscross the ocean from the year-ending events in far-off countries to appear in her fundraiser.
"I probably played tennis a year or two too long," Shriver said by phone from her Los Angeles-area home. "And this event probably should have come to an end a couple years ago, but it has taken me at least three years to come to terms with the idea that it is time to let it go. Now, like when I retired , I have no regrets.
"But I'm still part of Baltimore and always will be. My mom's there. My sister is on the Eastern Shore. I'm prepared and letting go of the event, but I want one last time, to celebrate the event and all the effort that went into it."
Those who know her best, her mom, Margo, her lifelong friend, Elise Burgin, and her best friend of the past 12 years in California, Gail Bliss, all say Shriver is due a respite.
"I was hoping she would retire from the event," said Shriver's mother, who lives in Baltimore County. "I saw what it was doing to her. It became more and more difficult to get people to sign up in advance. No one should have to worry about something like that. She didn't need the aggravation.
"I'm all for it, because becoming a mom has added a new dimension to Pam. When she became a mother, she was good from Day 1. Pam was 9 when we had Eleanor. Pam was a little mother then. She knows how to do a lot of things, having done them for her younger sister."
Margo Shriver, 70, whose grandchildren call her "Go Go" because she jets back and forth at least once a month to see them, said her daughter has become a California girl, even though she will always have her roots in Baltimore, where she is also a minority owner of the Orioles.
"Her new life will start after the Silver Tennis Ball Wednesday night," Shriver's mom said. "It won't be easy. Her divorce was final recently, and she'll have to work hard to keep things on a stable level."
Bliss, whom Shriver met when married to Shapiro, a former Walt Disney company lawyer who died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1999, said Shriver is up to it.
"Pam is one of the most grounded people I know," Bliss said. "She's just a very real, sincere person and she knows herself. She always wanted a family, and she knows how difficult it will be to raise them. She tries to keep a balance, and she does an amazing job of it. I'm a school counselor. I see a lot of family situations. What Pam does is very special. She goes above and beyond."
Although Shriver will still be working for ESPN, covering major events, including Wimbledon and the French, Australian and U.S. opens, that will keep her on the road for about 55 days a year, most of her time will be spent at home, caring for her kids.
"She's a working mom," Bliss said. "She loves it, and she does it with grace and ease. She wants to be a hands-on mom, and when she has difficulty understanding something, she goes to the school director or parenting director and asks for help. There aren't a lot of parents who will do that."
A few weeks ago, children in Shriver's twins' kindergarten class were each given letters of the alphabet. Their job was to bring in something representing those letters.
Sam and Kate got S and P. Sam took in a can of soup and a can of paint. Kate took in one of Pam Shriver' (P and S) Wimbledon trophies.
"As you know, the replicas aren't big," said Shriver, who won five Wimbledon doubles titles with her tennis partner, Martina Navratilova, who will be among the guests at Wednesday's fundraising celebration. "Kate often has imaginary tea parties with my Wimbledon trophies, and they're the perfect size -- about 4 inches from top to bottom -- appropriate to take to school and sit on a shelf for a week in the classroom."
Yes, it has come to that. Wimbledon trophies are now toys in her children's lives.
Burgin first met Shriver when they were 9-year-olds playing in a tournament at Clifton Park.
"We've gone through life together," said Burgin, tennis commentator for ESPN3 and DirecTV now, who played on the pro tour with Shriver for 13 years. "You couldn't ask for a better best friend. It's so wonderful to have this one person who understands what no one else does -- what it's like to go through the ups and downs of a pro career, then the ups and downs of real life.
"When I think about Pam, I think about her putting on the Challenge for 25 years. It's the longest-running special event in the country. I think it's sad now that it's coming to an end, but she has three young kids who require a lot of attention and she's loving being a mother.
"Just look at her. She has been incredible to be able to do it all. An incredible mother, who jets back and forth from East Coast to West Coast and across the oceans for her television work."
"She's doing homework now," she said. "I think she can do first-grade work, but it gets harder. I am so proud of her. It was remarkable she could pull it [the Tennis Challenge] off this long. Absolutely remarkable. I hope Wednesday night is a wonderful experience for her."
THE SILVER TENNIS BALL
A tribute to 25 years of the Pam Shriver Tennis Challenge — to its longevity, to Shriver's commitment to it and to Shriver, who is retiring the event
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel
Former Ravens CEO David Modell, now a consultant to the team, and his wife, Michel
Billie Jean King, Chris Evert
, Martina Navratilova, Elise Burgin, Gina Garrison, Beatrice Capra, former Oriole Brady Anderson
, former Raven Kyle Richardson
and Frank Deford
Deford will present Shriver with the Cystic Fibrosis "Breath of Life Award," which is awarded to a select few for their efforts in fundraising for cystic fibrosis research. Shriver will be the first recipient in Maryland.
$250. A limited number are still available by calling the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation office at 410-628-0795 or by going online at tennischallenge.org.