Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion? -
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 24th, 2011, 08:09 AM Thread Starter
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Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

I was looking through the old threads index today and, considering her impressive career, surprised that there wasn't one for Shirley Fry. There also doesn't seem to be much more detail on the internet that I can find either.

So here is a quick summary of her tennis achievements - perhaps others can add to it!

SHIRLEY FRY (Mrs Karl Irvin) born 30 June 1927 in Akron, Ohio.

US Championships
WON 1956
FINAL 1951
SF 1952, 1953, 1954
QF 1942, 1944, 1950, 1955

WON 1956
FINAL 1951
SF 1952, 1953
QF 1948, 1950, 1954

WON 1951
FINAL 1948, 1952
SF 1953
QF 1950

WON 1957

Australian - WON 1957
French - WON 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953
Wimbledon - WON 1951, 1952, 1953
US - WON 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954

Wimbledon - WON 1956

1946 - 9
1947 - NR
1948 - 8
1949 - 8
1950 - 5
1951 - 2
1952 - 3
1953 - 3
1954 - 6
1955 - 10
1956 - 1

One of only five women (Doris Hart, Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams are the others) in history to have won singles and doubles titles at each of the Grand Slam tournaments.

In October, 1954 Fry retired from tennis due to tennis elbow, but she began playing the Florida circuit in 1955/56 and her success encouraged her to begin the comeback which led to her Wimbledon and (in her 16th attempt!) US singles victories in 1956.

She travelled to Australia with Althea Gibson in late 1956. Around ten years earlier she had met an American named Karl Irving Jr, when he had umpired at a tournament in Chicago. She met him again at the New South Wales championships in Sydney where he was again undertaking umpiring duties. Irving was working with the new television industry downunder and, soon after this meeting, proposed to Fry.

With her marriage now planned, Fry announced early in 1957 that she did not intend to defend her Wimbledon or US titles and would confine her play to mixed doubles.

Her last singles tournament was due to be the Australian championships in January, which she won. She and Irvin married at Rose Bay Methodist Church on Saturday Feb 16, 1957, with tennis players including Lew and Jenny Hoad in attendance.

In March 1957, she entered the Australian Hardcourt Tennis Championships at Rockdale but, top-seeded, she was beaten in her first match by 18 year old Mary Fenton 60 64. Irvin, in the early stages of pregnancy, did have the consolation of winning the doubles with Norma Marsh.

About to give birth, in November 1957, Mrs Irvin said she never expected to return to serious competitive play. "I may play a few tournaments down here next year if possible, but I will never play Wimbledon and maybe never the Forest Hills championships again."

Concerning her successor, Althea Gibson, Mrs Irvin suggested that Gibson's position at the top of world tennis would be short-lived. "For one thing I think Althea will try to capitalise on her success and won't try to defend very long. For another, I do not feel she is good enough to stay on top."

The Irvins remained in Australia for a number of years before returning to the USA. In total, they had four children.

Wedding photograph -

ETA Since I can't sleep tonight, here are a few more bits n pieces about Fry:

She began playing tennis at the age of eight and won her first tournament at age nine. She won her first national title - the girl's championship - in 1944.

Shirley's father, Lester, wrote on the front page of her sports scrapbook that the objective for his daughter to win the Wimbledon singles championship in 1945, but World War II put paid to that dream. Fry's mother once held the Akron City doubles championship and another daughter Evelyn (later Mrs Woelz) also won local tournaments.

In October 1954, she began working as a copy girl for the St Petersburg Times, but continued to play 'weekend tennis'. A victory over world #1 Doris Hart in the University of Miami tournament (Feb 55) encouraged a comeback that she began in July of that year.

At wimbledon in 1955, she sprained an ankle in the SF against Brough and this put her out of the game for several months.

In the 1956 Wimbledon final, she was matched against England's Angela Buxton whose wealthy father offered her a recreation pier at a swank English seaside resort if she could beat Fry. When he heard about this offer, the Mayor of St Petersburg cabled Fry that she could have the Sunshine City's Million Dollar Pier if she won the final. Less than an hour after the Wimbledon final, Shirley cabled the mayor 'Coming Soon to Collect My Pier'. She was given a tickertape reception by the city on July 28 and was presented with a ceremonial deed to the pier.

Tennis elbow problems continued into the 1960s and she had an operation in 1966 to relieve her pain. In 1967 she won the national senior doubles with Betty Pratt and in 1968 won the Connecticut state open women's championship and the local Farmington, Conn open. She also planned to play in the New England Championships at Chestnut Hill.

As at 2006, Irvin had 12 grandchildren, but none of them had taken up tennis. She now lives in Longwood, Florida.

1951 French final -

US Champs vs Connolly -

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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 24th, 2011, 10:16 AM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Terrific info. The only time I ever heard someone comment on her was when Billie Jean King mentioned Shirley from the booth. I think she suffered from her career being sandwiched between the celebrated careers of Maureen Connolly and Althea Gibson, and that even in her early years, was overshadowed by Margaret Osborne and Pauline Betz among others. Interestingly, she and Pauline Betz both were unimpressed with Althea Gibson. Wasn''t Shirley Althea's opponent and conqueror during Gibson's rain-interrupted debut at Forest Hills in the early 50s?

There is nothing more beautiful than Evonne Goolagong in full flight moving across a tennis court.
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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 24th, 2011, 10:58 AM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Originally Posted by alfajeffster View Post
I think she suffered from her career being sandwiched between the celebrated careers of Maureen Connolly and Althea Gibson, and that even in her early years, was overshadowed by Margaret Osborne and Pauline Betz among others.
Not to mention Doris Hart, Louise Brough Clapp, Dorothy Bundy Cheney (who won their first 4 matches, all on clay), Sarah Palfrey Fabyan Cooke Danzig, Beverly Baker Fleitz, and Patricia Canning Todd. That was a tough era.

In doubles, Fry Irvin and Doris Hart frequently had the unenviable task of taking on Margaret Osborne DuPont and Brough Clapp, one of the top teams of all time.

Originally Posted by alfajeffster View Post
Wasn''t Shirley Althea's opponent and conqueror during Gibson's rain-interrupted debut at Forest Hills in the early 50s?
No, that was Louise Brough Clapp, in 1950, 6-1, 3-6, 9-7.

Prominent women tennis players:
Billie Jean Moffitt King's playing career:

Tafadhali usijisumbue kugusa mwili wangu ulioza!

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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 24th, 2011, 04:24 PM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Oh, thanks AR. You know, I have nearly all of the great players' autographs from this era (Maureen was long gone by the time I started collecting), but obviously wasn't there to see any of them play. I wish there were more video available.

There is nothing more beautiful than Evonne Goolagong in full flight moving across a tennis court.
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 24th, 2011, 04:56 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Here's a bit of video of Shirl..

1951 French final -

US Champs vs Connolly -
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Originally Posted by GeeTee View Post
Here's a bit of video of Shirl..

1951 French final -

US Champs vs Connolly -
Thank you very much! Often times I forget about the Pathe site, and have never seen the French site. It's fun to watch players at a time in tennis when you had to keep one foot on the ground while serving!

There is nothing more beautiful than Evonne Goolagong in full flight moving across a tennis court.
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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 31st, 2013, 09:39 PM
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Talking Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

As a child in Akron, Ohio, I lived just one block from Shirley Fry and her father, Lester. I was four years younger than she and in about 1941 when I was about 10 years old she let me get on her female bicycle and pedal it about 10 feet, my first-ever experience of riding a bicycle! Even at that young age we kids in the neighborhood knew her to be a very good tennis player. Her father was popular in the area for restringing tennis racquets in the summer and sharpening ice skates in the winter, as well as providing notary public services and more from his home/office.They lived in a house at the corner of East Exchange and Cleveland Streets.
I assume that Shirley attended the nearby Mason Elementary School, as did I, but I have no memory of ever seeing her there.
I do know though that the city created a park out of an old clay pit on E. Exchange St. just 2 blocks from her home in about 1940 and erected an unpaved, fenced tennis court there in her honor a few years after that. When I last visited Akron in 2009 I found that a new Mason Elementary and vehicle access facilities are now where the old tennis court used to be, but to the rear of the school is a new, larger, paved tennis court, and I do believe Shirley's name is still associated with it.
I must admit that before looking her up today on the internet, I was not aware of the great extent of her tennis accomplishments. Bravo to you, Shirley! And I must add that I remain eternally grateful to you for that bicycle experience! Norman Sterner
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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 31st, 2013, 10:53 PM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

I remember reading this in print. It was huge. It's the type of article not often seen "these days." The Pier changed a lot since they gave it to Shirley, and now they're renovating it again.

The story of 'Whirley Shirley' // Shirley Fry won Wimbledon and St. Petersburg's heart
St. Petersburg Times
Monday, July 3, 1989

Every year about this time, Wimbledon time, the letters and autograph-seekers track her down without fail. If that doesn't get to her, the ''Breakfast at Wimbledon'' broadcast usually does. She hasn't missed a one.

Even though more than three decades have passed, the mere mention of Wimbledon inevitably takes Shirley Irvin back - back to the mid-1950s when she was ''Whirley'' Shirley Fry , a one-time copy girl who incredibly rode the support of St. Petersburg residents from semi-retirement to a Wimbledon singles championship in 1956.

Mesmerized by her accomplishment, which many people believed put St. Petersburg on the tennis map, the city showered her with gifts, including the city's first (and apparently only) ticker-tape parade.

They even gave her The Pier.

''I'm overwhelmed. Nothing like this ever happened to me before,'' she said of the city's response. ''How did it all start? Why did they do it?''

1954: Gasoline was 29 cents; RCA introduced the first color television; Sports Illustrated rolled off the presses for the first time; the New York Giants swept the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series.

Ever since Shirley June Irvin, 62, can remember, sports has been a part of her life. While growing up in Akron, Ohio, she was heavily influenced by her father, a former Ohio University track and field star who got her involved in swimming, ice skating, baseball, running, archery, badminton and, of course, tennis. ''I was a real tomboy,'' she admitted.

It wasn't long before her tennis skills began to dwarf everything else. At age 10, she was traveling, often alone, to cities as far away as Philadelphia to play in junior tennis tournaments. She became a two-time national junior champion in 1944 and 1945 and earned a human-relations degree from Rollins College in Winter Park.

Like nearly all junior players, she had visions of playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon. ''My goal was to play there by 1945, but I couldn't because of (World War II),'' she said.

She made it in 1948, but was forced to default her quarterfinal match to Louise Brough because of a sprained ankle. Three years later, she reached the final but was trounced 6-1, 6-0 by friend Doris Hart, one of the game's all-time greats.

Despite being one of the top-ranked Americans on the women's tour in her time, Fry quickly gained a reputation as a gifted player who couldn't win a major singles title. Prior to 1954, she was 1-5 in Grand Slam finals, winning only the 1951 French Open, then not considered a ''major'' event.

Finally, after nearly a decade on the tour, Fry retired in October of 1954 because of a nagging elbow injury and because ''I was tired of living out of a suitcase.'' At 27, she was satisfied, having won the French Open singles crown and, in tandem with Hart, 11 Grand Slam doubles titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open doubles four consecutive years.

Upon retiring, she moved to St. Petersburg because of the warm climate. She stayed with friend Dan Sullivan, a former touring pro who still teaches tennis at Sunset Country Club, and his wife Casey. Casey, who worked in the St. Petersburg Times advertising department, helped Fry get a job with the newspaper.

One of her first duties as copy girl was sending the story of her own retirement down to the composing room.

''I knew my best years were probably behind me and it was too bad,'' she said. She earned minimum wage, about 75 cents per hour back then. ''Boy, I hated sitting and typing all day. I thought I had had enough of the travel until I took that job.''

But, as it turned out, tennis wouldn't let go. After playing only recreational tennis for several months, she decided to enter two Florida tournaments in early 1955.

She won them both, upsetting the top-ranked Hart in one final. Still ranked among the best in the nation, Fry soon was invited to play on the U.S. Wightman Cup team, which at that time was playing at Wimbledon the week before the major tournament.

''It was a free trip abroad,'' she reasoned. ''I figured, why not?''

She resigned from the Times in August 1955 and intensified her workouts with Sullivan at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center, then called Bartlett Park. After helping the United States to a 5-2 win over Great Britain, Fry decided to stick around for Wimbledon.

''I never thought I could win it,'' she said.

With Fry now 28, and coming out of retirement, hardly anyone else thought so either.

1955: Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala.; Disneyland opens in Anaheim; Captain Kangaroo graces the television screen; Bill Haley records Rock Around the Clock; Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens in New York.

Fry got a break that year when Wimbledon favorite Beverly Fleitz, a finalist the year before, pulled out just before the tournament after learning she was pregnant. ''I wrote her husband a note to say thanks,'' Fry, now a resident of Hartford, Conn., said with a laugh.

As Fry moved through the field, her confidence grew and the rustiness of her layoff lessened. Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, ''everybody in town was behind her, sending her telegrams saying 'Go, go,' '' recalled Sullivan.

Celebrating her 29th birthday during the tournament, Fry reached the quarterfinals to face Althea Gibson, who would win the tournament the next two years and become the first African-American in history to win a major tennis title. This particular Fry-Gibson clash would be the start of a friendly yet intense rivalry between the two champions.

''Althea was a person I never wanted to lose to,'' she said. ''Everybody has a personality and she was always very sure of herself, and that made you always want to win when you played her (yet) I probably thought I was going to get beat by her.''

According to accounts of the match, Fry's consistent baseline game outlasted Gibson's charging serve-and-volley attack. Fry barely pulled it off, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

In the semifinals, she again was stretched to three sets, but beat Louise Brough 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Incredibly, only Britain's Angela Buxton now stood between Fry and a most unexpected Wimbledon championship.

''After I beat Louise, I thought maybe I could win,'' she said. ''But now the pressure was on because I was supposed to beat (Buxton).''

That's probably why Buxton's father promised his daughter a recreation pier at a English seaside resort if she won. Not to be outdone, Samuel Johnson, then the St. Petersburg mayor, told Fry by telegram that she could have St. Petersburg's downtown pier if she won.

''This is subject to city council approval, of course,'' the mayor added in the telegram.

''I was surprised,'' Fry said. ''You know, it was very difficult traveling alone and it made a big difference to have people there for you. To know that all these people in St. Pete were behind me it just made me want to make them proud.''

It took her only 50 minutes to win the title. Again, it was her human backboard game that did the trick, drubbing Buxton 6-3, 6-1. When they met at the net for the customary handshake, both were crying.

Less than an hour after hoisting the coveted Wimbledon champion's plate above her head for all to see, Fry sent a telegram to Mayor Johnson that read: ''Coming soon to collect my pier.''

The city went wild.

Residents and city officials called for a ticker-tape parade. After stopping at the National Clay Court Championships in Chicago (she won that, too, beating Gibson in the final), Fry was to arrive in St. Petersburg on July 27, 1956. It was a Friday, but everyone called it ''Fryday.''

''It was a big moment as far as we were concerned. We had never had anything like this happen,'' said attorney Ed Turville, the former U.S. Tennis Association president who headed the St. Petersburg Tennis Center back then. ''It put St. Petersburg on the map, no question. To have something like that happen ''

An entourage of city officials, residents, a band, and Doris Hart (a surprise guest) serenaded Fry from Tampa International Airport across the Gandy Bridge (the Howard Frankland Bridge wasn't built until 1960) and through downtown St. Petersburg as the city rained confetti on her from buildings along the route. In the two days of celebration, Fry was given a key to the city, two Bartlett Park tennis courts in her name, a new blue and ivory 1956 Chevy Nassau, countless flowers and car ds and, of course, The Pier.

''It was like walking through a haze. Why me?'' she recalled. ''All I remember was it was bloody hot but it was a wonderful couple of days.''

1956: University of South Florida in Tampa is established; soap opera As the World Turns begins; Elvis Presley croons Love Me Tender; Raid insect spray and Life-Savers candy hit the market.

As amazing as Fry's story had been, it didn't stop there. After winning Wimbledon and the Clay Court Championships, she won the U.S. Open and the Australian Open - beating Gibson in both finals - to earn the nation's No. 1 ranking.

''When Shirley beat me at Wimbledon I think I cultivated a complex,'' Gibson said at the time. ''Every time I played her I felt that she had me.''

Although she had three of tennis' four jewels, Fry never got a shot at winning the French Open, which would given her a Grand Slam. It was during the Australian Open that she met her husband, Karl Irvin, an advertising executive. Soon after they met, they married and were expecting the first of their four children.

As suddenly and as miraculously as it began, ''Whirley Shirley's'' joy ride was over.

''I was on a roll there,'' she said. But she wasn't a budding teen-aged star in her rookie year. She was approaching thirtysomething and a family was more important.

After living Down Under for a couple of years, the Irvins settled in Connecticut, where she has stayed active in the sport by teaching and working with the New England Lawn Tennis Association and the Wightman Cup committee.

In 1976, 20 years after her Wimbledon victory, tragedy struck.

While playing tennis with the family, her husband suffered a heart attack and died. She went on, raising her four teen-agers by herself. Today, three of the four have their own families and her third child, Lori, is expected to make her a grandmother any day now.

''Hopefully, I'll be watching (the finals of) Wimbledon from Ohio (where Lori lives),'' said the former champion, whose four children all play tennis, but only for recreation.

Golf, more so than tennis, now occupies her life. There's a golf course near her suburban Hartford home where she plays about three or four times a week. ''I still shoot in the 100s, but I shot an 88 the other day,'' she said proudly.

She has divided up most of her tennis trophies between her children, but has kept many of the more important ones. Occasionally, visitors or new acquaintences will discover her past and ask, ''What's your name again?'' Or stare curiously and say, ''Did you really win Wimbledon?'' And naturally during her frequent trips back to Wimbledon, she's treated like royalty.

But, for the most part, that portion of her life stays confined to her scrapbook. She hasn't been back to St. Petersburg since the parade.

Reminders pop up here and there, like two years ago when Irvin won the Service Bowl Award, a national award given annually for outstanding tennis contribution. And there are the phone calls and autograph requests that arrive every year during the Wimbledon fortnight.

She doesn't harp on her Wimbledon feat, though, insisting that ''It's no big deal. It's in the past.'' Yet 33 years later - and possibly 33 years into the future - the bond between Irvin and St. Petersburg and her astonishing story remains among the most inspiring in tennis history.

''I had attained a goal that I had given up all hope of attaining,'' she said.

''I liked St. Petersburg and I'm just happy I got to live there and play. I hope to come back one day. Maybe I'll stop by the Times and, of course, The Pier.''

It'll be here, waiting for its rightful owner.
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Former Wimbledon champ will finally "own'' The Pier
St. Petersburg Times
Tuesday, August 28, 1990

Next week, a 34-year-old promise by the city of St. Petersburg will be made good.

St. Petersburg vice mayor Bob Stewart announced that the city has completed plans to honor former resident and Wimbledon champion Shirley Fry Irvin on Thursday, Sept. 6, as honorary owner of The Pier. Fry was promised The Pier for winning the 1956 Wimbledon singles title by then-mayor Ross E. Windom, but the city didn't follow through on the deal.

"It's a little bit tardy,'' said Stewart. "But nevertheless, we're going to make good on that commitment.''

Stewart said the city's bash for Fry will start at noon with a re-enactment of Fry's motorcade from City Hall to The Pier. After Fry won Wimbledon, she was given what is believed to be the city's only ticker-tape parade.

At The Pier there will be a public ceremony beginning at 12:30 p.m., followed by the unveiling of a plaque identifying Fry as its honorary owner. Then, Fry will be the guest of honor at a private luncheon at the Columbia restaurant at The Pier.

The public is invited to the ceremony and motorcade. Several local tennis officials have been invited. Former great Doris Hart, who won five Grand Slam singles titles and is a good friend of Fry's, also is expected to attend.

Capriati getting old? Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Capriati signed a $2-million contract last week to endorse - of all things - Oil of Olay. Seems like at her age you'd think she'd be lending her name to something like Clearasil instead. In any event, the deal brings her endorsement total to a reported $8-million. Meanwhile, she has barely made $200,000 on the court this year.

More on Capriati: Seems the Capriatis, who reportedly have gotten Jennifer a touring pro deal with Broken Sound resort in Boca Raton and will be moving there, are still trying to find a way for Jennifer to continue to train at Saddlebrook, according to coach Tommy Thompson, who works with Capriati. The Capriatis are apparently getting a house in the Broken Sound deal, but hope to send Jennifer to Saddlebrook to prepare for tournaments. "She obviously wants to keep training here,'' said Thompson.

Fernandez and Krickstein coming: Mary Joe Fernandez and Aaron Krickstein will likely do a lot of their training at Harry Hopman International Tennis at Saddlebrook, an official at the Pasco County resort confirmed. Fernandez and Krickstein, both highly ranked pros, are coached by Tim Gullikson, who was recently hired at Hopman/Saddlebrook. Krickstein and Fernandez will likely begin training there after the U.S. Open, according to Thompson.

Palmer an All-Star: Stanford sophomore Jared Palmer of Wesley Chapel made the Rolex Collegiate All-Star team. The squad, selected by the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association and Tennis magazine, is made up of the best college players from Division I, II and III schools. Palmer was picked because he finished the year ranked third in the nation in doubles (his partner was Jonathan Stark).
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City delivers on 34-year-old promise: It's game, set, Pier
St. Petersburg Times
Friday, September 7, 1990

The motorcade, such as it was, wormed around the barricades, barely noticed save for the waves from a few construction workers. And at the end of the line, 34 years late, Shirley Fry Irvin finally claimed the pier that had been bequeathed to her on a Wimbledon eve.

She was Shirley Fry in 1956. "Whirley Shirley,'' they called her. She was 29 and playing Britain's Angela Buxton at Wimbledon. Buxton's father promised to buy his daughter a pier at a resort if she won. St. Petersburg Mayor Sam Johnson countered by offering Fry the city's million-dollar Pier if she won.

Fry defeated Buxton 6-3, 6-1. "Coming soon to collect my Pier,'' she wired Johnson. When she did return, on "Fryday,'' July 27, 1956, she received a ticker-tape parade down Central Avenue - still the only one in St. Petersburg history - and a 1956 Chevrolet compliments of the Chamber of Commerce (she sold it a year later).

She also received an honorary deed to The Pier, but never any formal recognition at the site. As the years passed, the memory faded and The Pier was refurbished, still without acknowledgement of that long-ago promise.

On Thursday, the city took care of that formality with a parade (no ticker tape) and the unveiling of a permanent plaque.

The parade was hardly reminiscent of the turbulent reception she received when she returned from London to be honored as "St. Petersburg's own,'' even though she had lived here only two years after moving from Akron, Ohio, and having supposedly retired from competition because of a recurring tennis elbow.

Her biggest victory until then had been the 1951 French Open. Upon her arrival in St. Petersburg, she played several months of recreational tennis, entered and won a pair of Florida tournaments.

Her confidence and strength restored, she won Wimbledon, the U.S. National (now the Open) and the Australian Open, three Grand Slam tournaments.

Thursday's parade consisted of a police cruiser, a flatbed truck carrying a three-piece banjo band, a 1957 Chevrolet convertible carrying Mayor Bob Ulrich, Dan Sullivan ( Shirley Fry's tennis coach then) and the guest of honor herself; and a Pier trolley transporting city council members and other guests.

A banner proclaimed: Shirley: welcome to your Pier! Its main level was festooned with tennis-ball balloons, a tennis net strung between columns and enlarged copies of the St. Petersburg Times and Independent pages heralding her Wimbledon victory.

It was a story 14 months ago in the Times - where she had been a copygirl/secretary in 1954-55 - that prompted the St. Petersburg City Council to fulfill the commitment made a generation ago.

This was her first visit to St. Petersburg since 1957, when she married Karl Irvin and moved, first to Australia and later to Connecticut, where they raised their four children. Her husband died in 1976.

On Thursday, slimmer and more elegant than she had been in her playing days, Shirley Fry Irvin unveiled the plaque that celebrated her greatest tennis triumph.

Shirley, you made us proud! the plaque reads. Honorary ownership of the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier is presented to St. Petersburg's own Shirley Fry Irvin in recognition of her winning the 1956 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Tennis Championship.

She also received a telegram from New York, where the U.S. Open is being played, stating: All of us at the Women's Tennis Association join the citizens of St. Petersburg in honoring you today. We, too, are proud to call St. Petersburg our home. Congratulations on your well-deserved honor. (signed) Chris Evert.

"It's been a long time,'' she said of the presentation of the plaque, "and I believe something like this means even more. To be recognized so much later after the years you've played, and to be remembered is a wonderful thing.''

She laughed easily and often as accounts of her Wimbledon performance were read, particularly the references to her "deadly backcourt accuracy,'' and to the fact that, had she won those Grand Slam tournaments today, she'd be worth about $20-million - about what The Pier is worth.
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Fry has found out forever and ever has limitations
The Tampa Tribune
Saturday, September 8, 1990
Bob Chick

ST. PETERSBURG -- No one would have known if Shirley Fry 's curiosity got the better of her and she drove a few miles out of her way eight years ago just to steal a peek.

After all, it would have been normal to see if the words on the deed she had stored in her Hartford, Conn., home had been duplicated on a plaque at The Pier as promised those many years ago.

A cardboard replica of the plaque had been used in 1956 when the city climaxed its first and only ticker tape parade with a ceremony, highlighted by the intention to honor her forever and ever.

The city, in one of its most generous moments, named her the honorary owner of the Million Dollar Pier after she startled the tennis world and won the singles championship at Wimbledon that July afternoon 34 years ago.

Actually, it was championship final without, er, peer.

The wealthy father of Angela Buxton, Fry's opponent on that Wimbledon greenery, promised his daughter he'd give her a pier if she won the title. Not to be outdone, St. Pete mayor Sam Johnson offered this city's pier.

A dozen years ago Fry fielded a telephone call that lightly brought the whole pier issue up all over again. The Million Dollar Pier, her Million Dollar Pier, was being torn down, redesigned and rebuilt, and as honorary owner shouldn't she have been consulted? Fry didn't bite. The city could do as it wanted.

Better left unseen

Shirley Fry never thought about giving The Pier a look when she stopped at St. Petersburg Beach in 1982 on her way to Sarasota. It was her only trip to Florida since she left the city shortly after Wimbledon and the 1956 celebration. If there was a pier, or if there was a plaque, didn't cause her to go eight or nine miles out of her way.

Maybe it is best those things are left unseen.

When a newspaper story eventually pointed out the oversight, city officials busied themselves to correct the wrong. Shirley Fry Irvin would get her plaque and it would be done with a special day of celebration.

The city intended to invite the council members from 1956, but no one from that day was alive or able to be located. A parade from City Hall to The Pier called for a 1956 Chevy convertible. Yet the one they found had a bad water pump and the owner didn't want to fix it. A 1957 Chevy took its place. The parade route had to be altered because of downtown construction.

Minor hang-ups weren't going to ruin this glorious event, even if it had been difficult to get Fry to commit to the festivities. In her own way, she probably wondered why anyone bothered.

"I was not an outstanding figure in tennis," she easily said, shortly after a luncheon in her honor Thursday. "If they had put up a plaque in the first place, I wonder how many people would have walked by and asked, 'who in the world is Shirley Fry?' "

Shirley Fry was much that way in 1956. She was shy and retiring then and a little of that way now. Overwhelmed by this attention was one way to put it.

"I just wish I had a cassette of this," Fry told councilman Bob Stewart. "Then my children would get to see how important I am." The city will get her a tape. For on this day she was important. "This is like a dividend late in life. Something nice that really happens to you."

Fry's had a St. Petersburg mailing address for less than two years. Tired of living out of a suitcase and feeling her best tennis was behind her, she retired here in 1954 at age 28. A sore elbow added to her misery.

Recreational player

"People told me I'd teach tennis like everyone else," she said. "I was determined I wasn't going to do that." Instead she got her first full-time job as a copy girl at the St. Petersburg Times.

She continued to work with tennis pro Dan Sullivan, more for the recreation value of the sport than anything. "I wanted to settle down and get married," she said. Before that happened, she was offered a chance to play on the Wightman Cup team and with it a free trip to England and one more time in the tennis arena. That's all it took.

Shirley Fry did marry, seven months after she won Wimbledon, one month after she won the Australian Open and to an American, Karl Irvin. Four children in five years followed as did the move to Hartford, Conn. Her husband died in 1976.

"I was going to move to Florida," she tossed out to one admirer at the luncheon, just before she was interrupted by another who wanted an autograph.

Shirley Fry never completed the sentence on her reason not to move. That was only fair. St. Petersburg took 34 years to complete what it started in 1956.
Ms. Anthropic is offline  
post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old Aug 29th, 2013, 01:59 PM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

Here's a bit of video of Shirl..
dtyjyaejian is offline  
post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old Oct 5th, 2013, 01:05 AM
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Re: Shirley Fry - the forgotten champion?

I think the reason she is overlooked is she was in the shadow of Hart, Connolly, Osborne Du Pont, and Brough for years. She was a great player in her own right and won the Career Slam. She feasted off the inexperience and nerves off the great Gibson though. Not sure if she could have beaten the 57-58 version of Althea or not.
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