Some called him an icon, others a legend. Everyone marveled at his zany pants, his on-air vocabulary, his extraordinary way with words and his willingness—even desire—to be accessible.
But to me he wasn’t Bud Collins, tennis historian and all-around bon vivant, Hall of Famer and the greatest promoter the game has ever known. To me, he was simply Arthur, my mentor, my longtime colleague and, most important, one of my dearest friends.
I don’t know when we first started calling each other by our given names, but I do know that we always greeted each other as Arthur, as in Arthur Worth Collins Jr., and Cynthia, my seldom-used birth name. It was sacred and secret, as if no one else was in on the joke.
I first met Arthur in back in 1979 when I was a college student and summer intern at World Tennis magazine in New York. Like he has done for so many others, Arthur took me under his wing without even knowing me, taught me the proper etiquette for my profession and how to be heard while asking a question in a crowded press room.
Arthur included me in dinners at Santa Croce in London after a long day at Wimbledon, and picnics on an outdoor porch that once existed just outside the press room high atop Louis Armstrong Stadium. He showed me the sunset over the ocean at the Colony Club in Longboat Key, Fla., and taught me how to play grass-court tennis—even though I always kept my sneakers on and Arthur preferred to play barefoot.
Arthur introduced me to every top player and official in the game, as well as to the best journalists in the world, many of whom, like George Vecsey and Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Bill Dwyre of the LA Times, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, John Feinstein of the Washington Post and famed player/commentator Mary Carillo, have become lifelong friends.
In 1981, while we were covering the U.S. Pro Championships at the Longwood Cricket Club outside Boston, Arthur suggested I join him and then-fellow Boston Globe reporter Lesley Visser for drinks and spare ribs at China Sails, a restaurant across the street from his most beloved tennis venue. For years thereafter, Lesley and I would fight over who got to sit next to Arthur at dinner and in the press room. He made us both feel like the most important person in the room, as he did for everyone else around him.
Thanks to Arthur, I had a long stint covering Wimbledon and the U.S. Open for the Boston Globe alongside the greatest mind our sport will ever know. But it wasn’t always easy. Back when there were landlines at our writing desks, Arthur’s phone would ring off the hook. When he was at his seat, he would answer with a quippy retort, often in an exaggerated phony English accent. But because he was rarely around—always off discovering the latest phenom, hawking books around the grounds or dining in coveted places with so many who just wanted to bask in his glory—I had the privilege of answering those calls. Friends wanted tickets, local television stations wanted interviews and fellow journalists needed historical data that wasn’t readily available in the pre-internet era. Arthur accommodated all of them, even if he was five minutes away from deadline.
Arthur and I once did a radio gig together during the Miami Open in Key Biscayne. He was ripe with anecdotes and nicknames that day, calling Steffi Graf “Freulein Forehand”, Marat Safin the “Headless Horseman”, Pam Shriver the “Whomping Crane” and Gabriela Sabatini the “Pearl of the Pampas.” He also coined Chris Evert “Chris America”, Rosie Casals “Rosebud”, Billie Jean King “Mother Freedom” Vitas Gerulaitis the “Lithuanian Lion” and Venus and Serena Williams “Sisters Sledgehammer.” His monikers made me laugh so hard I had to constantly cover my microphone so the audience wouldn’t hear my guffaws. Every time we saw each other after that broadcast we swore we would do radio together again some day. Sadly, we never got to.
Almost 25 years ago, I married my beloved husband, Ford Levy, but I spent my wedding day with Arthur. As tradition held, I wasn’t supposed to see the groom before the ceremony, which worked out well because Arthur and I had an important tennis and lunch date. It stretched deep into the afternoon until I thought it best to go get dressed. Later, during the reception, Arthur and I danced together and he whispered in my ear, “By the way, I met someone special last week and I think I’m going to marry her.”
That special someone was Anita Ruthling Klaussen, whom Arthur married in a magnificent ceremony in Boston in 1994. Anita became Arthur’s rock and his soulmate, traveling the world with him and taking care of every minute detail so that he could do what he did best—entertain and educate the masses. She was his most devoted caregiver when he fell ill, and the love of his life until his very last breath this morning at age 86.
So, while the tennis world mourns the passing of one of the true heroes of our sport— Arthur’s famous trousers hanging quietly at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.—I say goodbye to one of my best friends. Arthur’s voice may be silenced but it will forever ring loud and clear in our minds and our hearts. I’ll never hear the word “Cynthia” said quite the same way again.