Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion -
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post #1 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:20 AM Thread Starter
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Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

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post #2 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:21 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

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post #3 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:25 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

St. Petersburg's Shirley Fry once reigned at Wimbledon

By Gary Shelton
Friday, June 21, 2013 11:41am

No one asked Shirley Fry Irvin about shutting down the Pier. They should have.

After all, it was hers.

She had won it, as sure as that trophy on her shelf, in that magical summer of 1956, back when the world was young and Fry along with it. After all, she was the Copy Girl Champion of Wimbledon. Who could deny her anything?

As the story goes, Fry's opponent in the Wimbledon final that year was an English woman named Angela Buxton, whose wealthy father had promised her a recreational pier at a seaside resort if she won Wimbledon. Upon hearing about such an offer, then-St. Petersburg Mayor Samuel Johnson cabled Fry and told her if she won, she could have St. Pete's own Pier.

Less than an hour after beating Buxton in straight sets, Fry sent a cable message back.

"Coming to collect my Pier," she said.

And she did, and on July 27, 1956, the streets of St. Petersburg rained confetti, and the politicians gave her a car, and flowers and the key to the city in the town's only ticker tape parade. They named tennis courts after her. Oh, and they gave her a (ceremonial) deed to the Pier.

"It's not really my pier," Fry says somewhat conspiratorially.

And she laughs, and all these years later, it still sounds like a spoon tinkling in a crystal glass.


Can it be that long ago? She turns 86 on June 30, and she can't play golf anymore since having her knees replaced 12 years ago, which kind of ticks her off. She doesn't remember things the way she once did.

She is a part of Wimbledon's lore, however, and a part of St. Petersburg's. Considering that, what is 57 years among friends?

Shirley Fry had retired. Back in October 1954, the wire services had all carried the story about how tennis elbow had forced her off the tour. She was working as a copy girl for the St. Petersburg Times for roughly $20 a day. She was there, reading the wires, during the 1955 Wimbledon final.

Fry played some tennis on weekends, but not like in the old days, when she was known as the fastest player on tour. But her elbow started to get better, and Fry was invited to play on the Wightman Cup team in England, and suddenly, she was back. So much for working her way up to publisher.

"I thought, 'I don't have to be a copy girl,' " said Fry, who now lives in a retirement home in Longwood, about 15 miles north of Orlando. "I had nothing to lose. Mostly, my job (at the Times) involved typing letters for the editor's secretary. When you made a mistake then, you didn't erase it or cover it up. You started the whole thing over again. I was happy to leave and go back to tennis."

Back then, it was a different game. The rackets were wooden, and the grips were different, and the strings weren't works of technology. Three of the four majors were played on grass.

And the prize money? It was nonexistent. Players had their travel taken care of, and their laundry and they stayed with families. Every now and then, a tournament might give a winner $100 with the stipulation it would be spent on tennis gear, but 1956 really was a time of amateurs.

"I think we had a lot better time than they have today," Fry said. "We were traveling and seeing the world. That meant a lot to us. Every tournament, we played singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Nowadays, they just concentrate on their singles."

And so they bounced from tournament to tournament. Maureen Connolly. Doris Hart. Althea Gibson. Rock 'n' roll was just starting out, and Elvis Presley's career, and the life of a tennis player was a good one.

Fry won her share. She is one of only 17 players to win each of the Grand Slam events (which alone would be worth about $8 million today), and she was a runnerup four times. She won 12 major doubles titles. She won the mixed in 1956 at Wimbledon. She was the No. 1-rated woman in the world in 1956. She entered the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1970. The great Billie Jean King once referred to Fry as "my idol."

Yet, a certain amount of celebrity seemed to escape Fry. Take the '56 Wimbledon title. The Sports Illustrated account made a much bigger deal of Lew Hoad, who won the men's singles. When it came to discussing the women, most of the article was about Gibson, who Fry beat in the quarters. Fry also beat Gibson in the '56 U.S. Open and in the '57 Australian Open.

"I think I had Althea's number," Fry said. "She didn't like to play against me. Off the court, she was a very nice person. But she's somebody you want to beat when she was on the court. In Australia, they booed her for slow play. I shouldn't say that.

"She gets much better credit than I do. People remember her name much quicker than mine. But I beat her when I should have."

Fry pauses.

"You know, all I'm trying to do now is outlive the champions who are older than me. Louise Brough is 90, and Doris Hart is 88."

And then the laugh comes again, hearty and infectious. It's a musical laugh, a laugh-along laugh.

Oh, she has been some places, and she has some stories to tell. In 1951, her first year on tour, Fry reached the final of her first Wimbledon. In the final, however, she lost to her old friend Hart in straight sets. She was ticked, and so she spent the evening drinking champagne. The next day, playing in the doubles final, she said she "saw about two balls all afternoon."

Ah, but then came 1956, the year of her comeback. Fry didn't lose a set in her first four singles matches. She lost her first set to Gibson in the quarters, then came back and won. She lost her first set to Brough, then came back and won. That left Buxton, who was trying to become the first British woman to win Wimbledon in 19 years.

Buxton never had a chance. Fry won 6-3, 6-1 in 50 minutes, never losing her serve. The trophy was hers. The Pier, too.

That year, Beverly Baker Fleitz, the American player with two forehands, was a Wimbledon favorite. Someone would hit to her "backhand" side, and Fleitz would simply swap hands with the racket and hit a forehand with her left hand.

In 1956, Fleitz was seeded second at Wimbledon and reached the quarterfinals. Pregnant with her second child, however, Fleitz had to withdraw. After Fry won, she took care to thank Fleitz's husband in her victory speech.

No one covered the court as quickly as Fry. She laughs again and suggests that was because she learned to play at the University Club, where her father was a member. The courts were close together, and the first court lined up near the building. If you didn't chase down a wide serve in a hurry, you could run headlong into a wall. So she learned to move.

Ah, but serving? That was another story.

"I had the worst serve in tennis," she said. "Not even Bill Tilden could teach me a serve when I was at Rollins. But I learned to place the ball, to get the first one in."

How would she do now? Sometimes she wonders. A lot of tennis players have won a lot of matches since 1956: King and Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert and Monica Seles and Steffi Graf and Venus and Serena Williams.

"Yeah, you do think of that," Fry said. "You wonder about the new equipment. They do have a lot of speed on their ball, I'll say that. I don't know how well we would do."

The time went so fast. Fry won the last two Grand Slam events of 1956 and the first of 1957 (her only Australian). But by then, she was engaged to an umpire named Karl Irvin (who died in 1975). Although she continued to play after her marriage, she never played in another Grand Slam tournament. Instead, she had four children in five years and went about her life.

And so the years went by for Shirley Fry Irvin. Four children led to 12 grandchildren. One day, when her daughter visited the Pier, she was given the plaque that commemorated Fry's accomplishment. Over the years, a lot of people forgot.

Ah, but that golden summer afternoon is still frozen in memory. In some ways, Shirley Fry will always be the smiling young woman perched on the back seat of a convertible as it drove through St. Petersburg, soaking up the ticker tape parade and smiling at the cheering fans.

Funny how the memory outlasted the Pier.

As it turns out, both of them belonged to Fry. Trust her. The memory is better.
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post #4 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:27 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

A post Wimbledon hometown celebration

Ticker tape

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post #5 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:28 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

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post #6 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:32 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

Newport 2004, the 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday

That is Shirley waving.

Then from left to right Rosie Casals, ????, Bud Collins, Chris Evert, Nancy Richey, Lamar Hunt, and Dodo Bundy on right.

Thanks to Mrs Anthropic for identifying the time and place!
Thanks to Wolbo for identifying Lamar Hunt.
Thrust suggests our unidentified woman may be Doris Hart.

Last edited by Rollo; Apr 23rd, 2015 at 01:52 AM.
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post #7 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:34 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

A young Fry. She was an expert at traveling by herself before she was a teenager, as her family couldn't afford a chaperone.
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post #8 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:35 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

Her Hall of Fame profile at:

Shirley Fry-Irvin

Born:June 30, 1927
Place of Birth:Akron, Ohio
United States Citizenship:United States
Induction Category: Player
Year of Induction:1970
Highest Ranking World Singles Ranking: 1

Victorious at every Grand Slam event in singles and women’s doubles, Shirley Fry built a reputation for congeniality and fair play that would extend well beyond her playing years. Her success was attained largely on the strength of her formidable ground strokes, but she was highly competent at the net and a sound strategist. Her flexibility was apparent throughout her productive career, and she won and lost with extraordinary equanimity over the years. Gamesmanship was not an option she had any interest in exploring.
Grand Slam Record

Australian Championship
  • Singles Champion 1957
  • Doubles Champion 1957
French Open
  • Singles Champion 1951
  • Doubles Champion 1950-53
  • Singles Champion 1956
  • Doubles Champion 1951-53
  • Mixed Doubles Champion 1956
US National Championship
  • Singles Champion 1956
  • Doubles Champion 1951-54
Career Achievements
  • Wightman Cup Team member 1949, 1951-53, 1955-56
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post #9 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:38 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion



Fry-Irvin's Wimbledon Replica
An ordinary wall unit in an Orlando apartment is anything but ordinary. Amongst the shelves are several trophies. Not simply commonplace trophies from finishing in 3rd place in youth sports. Not even high school championship trophies. Rather, in the unit, are several French Championship trophies right next to the circular Wimbledon platters. You may be thinking a tennis player with a last name such as King, Williams, or Navratilova currently spends time in Orlando. But no, sketched into the trophies is a name you may not recognize, a name that goes without notice, without attention, without decades of glory. Sketched across those trophies is the name SHIRLEY FRY-IRVIN.

Shirley Fry-Irvin was born in Akron, Ohio where her father instilled discipline in her at a very young age. While Shirley was young, she enjoyed swimming. Fry-Irvin explained how she learned to excel in the pool at a young age, “I was thrown in the lake at age 6 and my father decided I should swim in the winter time in Akron. He went to a local swim team when I was 10 and asked if I could join the swim team.” Fry-Irvin and her father spent a lot of time together as they had a unique bond: a drive to be successful in athletics. Shirley’s determination became apparent at the young age of just 10 when the swim coach said he would allow her to be on the swim team only if she could swim a mile in the pool. Despite being a young female, Fry-Irvin knew she was up to the test. “I simply got in the pool and swam a mile and was on the swim team for a couple of years”.

Fry-Irvin (Left) with Doris Hart
In her teens, Fry-Irvin developed a passion for badminton and tennis. She began to travel the world by herself in 1936 for tournaments. After having success at such a young age, Shirley came to the realization that she could thrive playing the sports she loved. “At 14, I was told that I would probably be the next badminton champion but they wouldn’t let me play in the women’s tournament because I was too young. At that point, I decided to turn my focus to tennis”, Fry-Irvin said. Little did she know at the time, her decision as a teenager would pay off in the future.

Fry-Irvin’s drive to be successful continued in college, when she decided to attend Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida to play tennis. While at Rollins, Shirley’s career launched. During her junior year at Rollins, Fry-Irvin qualified for the Wimbledon quarterfinals and French Championships final. Although she fell short of capturing her first major, Fry-Irvin drew the eyes of many as she advanced to the finals at such a young age. Still, Shirley’s drive to win pushed her to strive towards a trophy. Shirley still looks back at that match wishing she could have it back. “I should have won, but I didn’t”, she said. Little did Fry-Irvin realize at the time, she would have plenty of additional opportunities to bring home a major trophy.

Shirley quickly became a name to be reckoned with in the Grand Slam circuit. Fry-Irvin broke into the top 10 in the world rankings in 1946 and reached her first Grand Slam final in 1948 in both the singles and doubles French Championships. She teamed up with another young American superstar, Doris Hart, to create a doubles team that would dominate for years to come. Fry-Irvin considers herself blessed to have played on the same side of the net as Hart. “Her brother suggested that we may be good doubles partners. I was very lucky that she took me on as a doubles partner and we became very close friends.” Not only did their relationship grow off the court, but on the court, their games complimented each other as well. “I was her legs because she had knee problems. She was very tall and had a big reach but I could retrieve anything over her head”, Fry-Irvin said.

Hart and Fry-Irvin continued to improve as a duo and began winning multiple Grand Slam Championships. After winning their first Major title at the French Championships in 1950, the twosome went on to win the championships at the French, US, and Wimbledon Championships for the following 3 years on their way to 11 Grand Slam doubles titles in the 1950’s. In 1953, the friends lost a total of just 4 games throughout the Wimbledon doubles tournament. The teammates didn’t lose a game in the finals of the tournament against Maureen Connolly Brinker and Julie Sampson Haywood. Looking back on the tournament in 1953, Fry-Irvin calls it one of the highlights of her career. “We had one terrific run at Wimbledon when our last two matches of the tournament were love and love”. Despite the success in doubles, Shirley did not have the same good fortune in singles early in her career.

A Recent Gift From Wimbledon
In 1951 Shirley Fry-Irvin won her first Grand Slam singles championship, defeating her friend Doris Hart in a thrilling 3 set match at the French Championships. Just 4 years later, Shirley decided to retire and begin working as a copy girl for the St. Petersburg Times. After just a short stint out of tennis, Fry-Irvin decided it was time to return to the game she loved in 1956 when she was invited to play in the Wightman Cup. “I was excited to get an invitation to play in the Wightman Cup, so I gave up my copy girl job. I would type for the secretary and editor and I was glad to leave and go back to tennis. I had nothing to lose.” The decision to return to tennis resulted in being one of the best decisions of her career. In 1956, Shirley Fry-Irvin won the Wimbledon singles championship for the first time in her career, beating Angela Buxton in straight sets. However, her success continued in the other majors, beating the top player in the world, Althea Gibson in both the U.S. Championships and Australian Championships to launch Shirley to the number one world ranking in 1956. Looking back on her comeback, Fry-Irvin insists that good fortune played a key role in her success. “I’m glad that I returned to tennis and was so lucky. There really is luck when playing”, she said. Her comeback proved worthy as she won the last 3 Grand Slam singles tournaments that she would play.

Looking back on her career, one of the more interesting time periods came during World War II. While American women such as Fry-Irvin were able to continue to play tennis, women from several other countries did not play during the war. Shirley had an eye opening experience as she traveled to London to play at Wimbledon just after the war had ended. “When we went over we always stayed at peoples homes. I remember staying at one person’s home and she had lost a leg in the war. “ Fry-Irvin insists that the people of London were incredibly hospitable after the war. The war, however, didn’t only impact her housing, but also the actual Wimbledon facilities. “Wimbledon still had damage from the wartime. A lot of seats were gone from the bombings”, Fry-Irvin explained.

Myself, Fry-Irvin, and Several of Her Trophies
Tennis has remained a part of Shirley Fry-Irvin’s life. Although a leg injury has prevented her from recently playing, she still enjoys watching the major tournaments. While watching the Grand Slams, Fry-Irvin cheers on the Americans. After watching the 2013 French Open, she explained her appreciation for Serena Williams’ dominance. “She is so muscular. I am surprised the girl (Sara Eranni) she played in the semifinals even got a game from her.” (Williams won that match 6-0, 6-1 before going on to win the championship). Although she enjoys watching all of the Grand Slams, Fry-Irvin is especially excited for June 24, the start of Wimbledon. It was no surprise when the 5-time Wimbledon champion described her favorite tournament to win. “It has to be Wimbledon, it’s the one that everyone wants to win.”

Despite all of the trophies that Fry-Irvin accumulated, her name does not evoke the attention that many other former top ranked tennis players have received. In 1970, Shirley was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, a long 13 years after she retired. Fry-Irvin was thrilled to join the Hall of Fame but was surprised by the amount of time it took. “I thought it was pretty late. It should have been long before 1970.” In spite of the frustration of the length of time to reach the Hall of Fame, Fry-Irvin was honored to share the moment with her family. “It was special. My children came to see me when I was inducted in Newport, Rhode Island”, Fry-Irvin said.

Back in her Orlando apartment, while looking at each trophy and telling stories about each tournament, Shirley Fry-Irvin explained that one trophy stood out from the rest: the 1945 USTA Sportsmanship Trophy Award. “I’ve told my son that the sportsmanship trophy means the most to me, so I gave him that trophy. I went out to enjoy the game and hope that the audience enjoyed the game”, Fry-Irvin said.

While Shirley Fry-Irvin may not be a well-known name in women’s tennis, her accomplishments speak for themselves. Her commitment, dedication, positive attitude, and love for the game prolonged her career in route to a career Grand Slam in both singles and doubles. As her trophies sit alone in her living room wall unit, one actuality is for certain; the name SHIRLEY FRY-IRVIN etched into those trophies will remain in tennis history forever.
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post #10 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:40 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

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post #11 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:42 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

The all powerful American Wightman Cup team of 1954 on Court One at Wimbledon.

Doris Hart, Louise Brough, Shirley, Maureen Connolly and captain Margaret du Pont on the right.

Doris and Shirley won 11 grand slam doubles titles together. The best of friends, they were the only effective team to staunch the juggernaut combo and Brough and du Pont.

Last edited by Rollo; Apr 23rd, 2015 at 01:36 AM.
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post #12 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:46 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

Althea Gibson and Shirley Fry landing in Australia late in 1956. Shirley met her future husband, won the Australian, got married, and promptly retired.

Althea went on to dominate tennis in 1957 and 1958.

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post #13 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 02:49 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

The ITA Hall of Fame page:

Known as the fastest player of her day, Shirley Fry Irvin (b.1927) was ranked in the Top 10 from 1944 to 1956, reaching No.1 in 1956. She was the third woman to win all four Grand Slam singles events, achieving that distinction shortly after her friend, Doris Hart. A native of Akron, Ohio, Fry excelled at tennis under her father’s guidance, becoming the youngest player at the U.S. nationals in 1941. A 1949 graduate of Rollins College, she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and French finals in her junior year.
With grit and tremendous concentration Fry was a strong competitor against the great Maureen Connolly. Fry also joined Doris Hart in an unstoppable doubles team, taking 11 major titles in the early 1950’s. Following a brief retirement Fry was invited to compete on the 1956 Wightman Cup Team and, in an amazing comeback, went on to win the Wimbledon, U.S., and Australian singles championships.
While in Australia Fry met and married Karl Irvin, a U.S. advertising executive and tennis umpire with whom she had four children. She taught and continued to play competitively for the next three decades. In 1987 Fry was honored with the USTA’s Service Bowl Award.
Career Highlights
  • 17 Grand Slam titles (4 Singles, 12 Doubles, 1 Mixed Doubles)
  • Ranked in USTA Top 10 from 1944 to 1956; No.1 in 1956
  • Winner of USTA Girls’ Sportsmanship Trophy Award 1945
  • U.S. Girls’ 18 Champion in Singles (1944, 1945), Doubles (1943), and Indoor Singles and Doubles (1943)
  • U.S. Singles Champion 1956
  • U.S. Doubles Champion 1951-1954
  • Wimbledon Singles Champion 1956
  • Wimbledon Doubles Champion 1951-1953
  • Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Champion 1956
  • French Singles Champion 1951
  • French Doubles Champion 1950-1953
  • Australian Singles Champion 1957
  • Australian Doubles Champion 1957
  • U.S. Clay Court Singles Champion 1956
  • U.S. Clay Court Doubles Champion 1946, 1950, 1956
  • U.S. Wightman Cup Team Member 1949, 1951-1953, 1955, 1956 (10-2 record)
  • U.S Grass Court Champion: Women’s 40 Singles (1976); Women’s 40 Doubles (1967); Women’s 50 Doubles (1978-1979); Women’s 55 Doubles (1983)
  • U.S. Clay Court Women’s 55 Singles Champion 1985
  • Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame 1970
  • Winner of the USTA Service Bowl 1987
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post #14 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 08:58 PM
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

Originally Posted by Rollo View Post

Can anyone place this photo? Newport maybe?
Newport 2004, the 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday.

Originally Posted by Rollo View Post
That is Shirley waving.

Then from left to right Rosie Casals, ????, Bud Collins, Chris Evert, Nancy Richey, unidentified man, and Dodo Bundy on right.
Trying to figure out who everyone was, especially when so many of them were wearing hats and sunglasses and were now much older than any photo from their heyday was at times challenging and amusing/embarrassing.
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post #15 of 24 (permalink) Old Apr 22nd, 2015, 09:18 PM
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Re: Shirley Fry: The Modest Champion

Thank you for posting Rollo. I'm sorry to say I'd never heard of Shirley Fry and it was very interesting to learn about her.
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