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Obituary

Tennis standout shared his knowledge with area youth

By Marty Clear
Published April 6, 2007


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Tennis World magazine featured a teenager named Bill Lenoir on its cover one month in the late 1950s. The banner read "Arizona Whiz Kid."

In Plant City, a novice tennis player named Steve Gardner had gotten a subscription to Tennis World for Christmas.

His first issue was the Arizona Whiz Kid cover. He immediately idolized Mr. Lenoir, who was the top-ranked youth tennis player in the nation. Gardner tucked that magazine away and treasured it for years.

A quarter-century later, Gardner had become a lawyer and the tennis chairman at Tampa Yacht and Country Club when he opened his mail and found a photocopy of that very magazine cover.

"I thought, 'What's this? Nobody knows how much this story means to me,' " Gardner said.

It was a letter from Bill Lenoir, himself, who was applying for a job at the country club and had enclosed a copy of the Tennis World story. Mr. Lenoir had no idea Gardner knew who he was.

"We actually had tentatively settled on someone else for the job," Gardner said. "But then we met Bill and (his wife) Linda, and they were exactly what we were looking for."

Mr. Lenoir spent virtually the rest of his life as the country club's tennis director. He retired just last summer, and passed away from thyroid cancer March 28 at age 64.

His legacy in Tampa includes teaching countless aspiring tennis players. He had a natural connection with young people and always encouraged them to pursue their tennis dreams.

"When he started, we had no program at all for kids," Gardner said. "Within probably three months, certainly within six, we had a waiting list and we had mothers literally crying on the phone because they couldn't get their kids into the program."

Still, Mr. Lenoir was humble. Most of his students likely knew little about his tennis success.

In 1960, he had been the top-ranked tennis player in the country under age 18. Throughout his career, he earned tournament victories over nine Wimbledon champions, including Arthur Ashe. He was named to the National Collegiate Men's Tennis Hall of Fame and the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. He was a three-time collegiate All-American and twice was national high school singles champion.

Mr. Lenoir's playing style was highly unusual in his heyday. He held the racket with two hands for both his forehand and backhand strokes.

"People used to come to watch him play just for that," Linda Lenoir said. "But he did it that way because he started playing with his father's racket, and it was too heavy for him. Then he just got comfortable with playing that way."

In later years, Mr. Lenoir and his son Jeff were the second-ranked father-son team in the country.

Mr. Lenoir had not intended to make tennis his career, having earned degrees in engineering and mathematics from Arizona State. But a glut of engineers during that era made it difficult for him to find suitable work. He started teaching tennis and soon found out he was good at it, especially at teaching youngsters.

He met Linda when they were in high school in Arizona. They came to Florida in the mid 1980s, settling first on Davis Islands and then moving to their home on the Alafia River in Riverview 15 years ago.

For more than two decades, Linda Lenoir worked alongside her husband at Tampa Yacht and Country Club.

"I was kind of his sidekick," she said. "People used to ask how we could do it, working together and living together. But the way we looked at it, we were lucky because we had twice as much time together as most couples."

Besides his wife and his son Jeff, Mr. Lenoir is survived by his son Jim, a grandson, two brothers and two sisters.

[Last modified April 5, 2007, 07:54:56]


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