The tennis world lost a unique and very extraordinary individual when Henry Talbert passed away at his Pacific Palisades home on the morning of January 12, 2014. Having dealt with a myriad of health issues for a lengthy period of time, the International Club member died peacefully, surrounded by his family - his wife, Fran and his sons, Eli and Ethan.
After graduating from UCLA and serving in Vietnam, he became the National Urban League's Director of Veterans Affairs. A life-long tennis player, with a game developed on public park courts in Los Angeles and at Dorsey High School, he began his career long USTA service in 1974.
Working initially with icons of recreational tennis, Eve Kraft and John Conroy, Talbert became the first African-American to be a USTA administrator on the national level. His leadership skills were evidenced in the time he spent developing programs at the organization's headquarters in New York City, then Princeton and finally, White Plains. His goals were aimed at increasing participation in the sport, and he focused on implementing activities that provided youngsters, adults and seniors with a multitude of tennis playing opportunities.
In 1997, SCTA President William (Bill) Rombeau was able to persuade him to return to his Southern California home and become the organization's Executive Director. In that capacity, Talbert continued to impact those in and around the game until he stepped down as director at the end of April 2013.
Talbert, whose name was synonymous with class and the application of the USTA way, ended his SCTA stay after sixteen years. In all, he was deeply committed to the game, locally and nationally, for 39 years. During that period, no individual he encountered could have anything but praise to offer when Henry Talbert's name was mentioned.
At a salute organized by Ronita Elder, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, during the 2013 BNP Paribas Open, USTA Chairman, CEO and President Dave Haggerty said, 'Henry Talbert has served the USTA and the sport of tennis throughout his life. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. We love you''
Community tennis activist LaRhonda Amos, who was on hand, offered, 'Many people come through our lives, but there are a 'precious few' that place a permanent mark on your heart. Henry Talbert is one of those 'precious few'. I've known him for over 20 years and from our first meeting, I observed a proud, intelligent, educated and articulate man, who truly understands and continually addresses the special tennis needs of our community. Over time, he has become a true and valued mentor to me.'
The outpouring of sentiment following the announcement of his death clearly indicated the effect he had on so many in the tennis world. This was the result of being who he was and the way he led his life. He was never one to rest on laurels and he didn't act as if his position or presence was overly important or worthy of any sort of entitlement. He thoroughly enjoyed visiting with anyone and everyone'and as many recall, he had a marvelous sense of humor.
'It is so sad to lose our wonderful Henry', Lesley Waite, an SCTA Board member, noted. 'He was the epitome of a true gentleman. I will remember him and the wise advice and kindness he extended to me throughout the many years I had the privilege of knowing him.'
Pam Shriver, who is part of the broadcasting team for the Australian Open television commentary, said from Melbourne, 'I feel fortunate to have known Henry Talbert for decades from east coast to west coast. Henry's love of tennis was only surpassed by his love of family and friends.'
Kathy Willette, another board member, offered, 'I join everyone in reflecting on the treasure, friend, mentor, inspiration and more, that Henry will continue to be for us all. I have kept in a special place all the notes that Henry has shared with me over the last 30 years.... some of encouragement, some humorous, some filled with the wisdom that was only Henry.... all have left a lasting mark on my life.'
USTA Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith added, 'Henry represented everything good about tennis and the USTA. He was in every sense the heart and soul of who we are and who we aspire to be.
Words like 'legend' are used far too often when an individual is extolled. In Talbert's case, legend doesn't do him justice. He set a standard that tennis leaders, along with everyone in the game, should aspire to achieve. He was a caring and loving individual. Those who could call him ?friend' can treasure the memories of the special relationship. There will never be another Henry Talbert.
The service for Henry Talbert will take place Saturday, January 25th at 1:00 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of Pacific Palisades, in Pacific Palisades, California.
The entire tennis community extends condolences to the Talbert family.
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