Editor's Note: Jane Brown Grimes, a transformative tennis industry leader who held roles as President and CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Managing Director of the Women’s Professional Tennis Council (precursor to today’s WTA), and Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO of the United States Tennis Association, died at home in New York City on November 2. Brown Grimes, a lifelong New Yorker, was 80 years old.
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Jane Brown Grimes: The Most Scholarly Hall of Famer
Brown has channeled her years in tennis into a fruitful academic path, and is currently in the midst of writing a PhD thesis on the history of women's game.
Published Jun 17, 2021
When the enterprising Jane Brown Grimes was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014, she was fittingly rewarded for lifelong contributions to the game and three chief roles that set her apart as a singularly far reaching leader. She served ably as Managing Director of the Women’s Professional Tennis Council from 1986-91, and was a highly respected President and CEO for the Hall of Fame from 1991-2000. Previously at the ITHF, Brown had been Executive Director from 1981-86 and tournament director of the ATP and WTA tournaments held on the lawns of Newport from 1977-81. And, not to be overlooked, she established herself as a very effective President of the United States Tennis Association in 2007-2008.
Receiving the sport’s ultimate honor in Newport seven years ago, Brown could have stopped to smell the roses after so many years of success. But that would have gone against the grain of who she is and how she looks at life. Brown’s unswerving devotion to the world of tennis propelled her to embark on an academic journey that has happily engulfed her ever since.
Even before her Hall of Fame induction in 2014, Brown realized she needed to take her history at the highest levels of the tennis administrative world and turn it into something even more rewarding.
Jane has had a real knack for working with people from different organizations. She taught me a very important thing—that you don’t need to know everything, but you should know where you need to go to find everything. Peachy Kellmeyer
She recalls, “I still held on to a few committees both international and within the USTA at that time, even though I didn’t have a full-time job in tennis anymore. And yet I was still very active and eager. I thought, ‘I have all of this background information on tennis and tremendous access to anyone in the game. I would love to put it all together and do something important with it.’ So, the first thing I did was to find a Masters course online that Cambridge University was offering. It was International Relations and it took two years. You could do most of it from home while going over [to England] a couple of times for lectures, and to attend courses. There was a thesis at the end of it. I jumped on that chance.”
The name of her thesis was “Tennis, The Cold War and the Politics of Sport: the 1986 Federation Cup in Prague.” Martina Navratilova had defected to the U.S. in 1975 and this was her first time back in her former country. She was joined by Chris Evert, Pam Shriver and Zina Garrison on the victorious American team.
Brown was there for that landmark occasion, recalling, “It was an absolutely fantastic event with the politburo looking down. They would get up and walk out every time Martina came to play. When it was over and the U.S. had won, Martina was given a big microphone and she started her speech in English, but within about ten seconds she switched into Czech and the place went nuts. Her mother was sitting in front of me and down a ways, and she was in tears. Martina left the court, went straight to the airport, got on the plane and just waited. She was afraid they were somehow going to keep her from coming back to the U.S., but they didn’t.”
Brown was enormously inspired by witnessing that stirring spectacle. She turned in the thesis after two years (September of 2013 to July of 2015) and it was approved by Cambridge. She earned her Masters degree in International Relations. As Brown recollects now, “They told me they thought it was wonderful. They said, ‘You should keep going. You obviously have a tremendous amount of knowledge so why don’t you apply for a PHD and put in a research proposal to do it on women’s tennis?’ It really hadn’t dawned on me to do that, but I was eager. So, I wrote a proposal.”
Brown believes retrospectively she was fortunate that the academic world had changed significantly, thus opening up a window for her that might have been closed. She says, “Academia at the very highest levels had finally recognized sport as a worthy area of research and study. It used to be that sport was something you did on the weekend, but it was not something you studied. Timing is everything. I hit it just right. They were actually looking for a sports research project.”
In the autumn of 2016, Brown started her PhD program. But the requirements were different than for her Masters project. As she explains, “The difference this time was you had to be in residence for three years. That caught me off guard, but then I thought, ‘Why not?’ It was a good time for me to go somewhere. Cambridge is one of the most beautiful towns in England with all of the Medieval buildings, King’s College and the River Cam.”
She moved into a flat in Cambridge and immersed herself in the thesis. Brown spent time each month at the Wimbledon Library doing research, calling it “a goldmine.” Brown was assigned two “supervisors” from Cambridge who reviewed her work once a month. She left Cambridge in 2019, but the project remains in progress and she speaks to the supervisors on Zoom from her home in New York regularly. She asked for an extension to compensate for the pandemic, and so her thesis is now due in the spring of 2022.
Brown was gratified that there was so much curiosity about her thesis when she would attend seminars at Cambridge. She says, “You realize that tennis is something people know something about, but they want to know more. What drove me to do it was I really felt in a unique position since I had contact and access to almost anybody I needed after spending so many years in the sport. There was no one—whether it was a sponsor, an agent, a player or a coach—that was not on my Rolodex so to speak. All of these people have been willing to talk and help out.”
It used to be that sport was something you did on the weekend, but it was not something you studied. Jane Brown Grimes
Her PhD thesis covers a defined scope. She is examining women’s tennis from the start of Open Tennis in 1968 up until Wimbledon in 2007. “You need an end point,” she explains, “so Wimbledon 2007 was it. That was when Venus Williams [was instrumental] in getting equal prize money for the women so all of the Grand Slam tournaments finally had parity.”
The thesis contains five chronological chapters which cover the 40 years she is encompassing essentially decade by decade. Brown says, “I have a first draft. At this point I have a few holes to fill. I need to get a hold of Larry King [Billie Jean’s ex-husband and a former promoter] and a couple of other people as well to fill in some pieces. It also needs a little smoothing out and editing but I am determined to get it done within the next year.”
Brown has managed to speak with almost all of the key players and figures already, including Billie Jean King, Ann Jones and Julie Heldman, along with agents and transformational people like Stephanie Tolleson, Phil de Picciotto and the ever-present Sara Fornaciari. “Each time I would get to a new subject”, says Brown, “I would realize there was somebody else I needed to talk to, but I knew it would be easy in almost all cases for me to reach these people. That was one of the selling points for Cambridge to take me on. There are others who could have done [a thesis] like this but not many.”
Perhaps no one else could have done it. Brown is writing a history of a pivotal period in women’s tennis, and through most of her timeframe she was a central figure. She lived that history, and would be more than capable of offering an accurate and through account drawn solely from her own experiences.
“It can be a little frustrating”, Brown concedes, “because I actually think I could go into a closet and write this thesis without talking to almost anybody else. But that certainly is not what Cambridge wants. It needs to be backed up with people who were there, with interviews and quotes and comments from others that back up what I am saying, and many footnotes. It can’t just be my opinion of what happened. I need corroboration. Sometimes you find out somebody else has a different take. People see things differently, and time changes how they remember things. So you give both sides to an issue, adding more layers and depth. The fact that I lived through most of it—and was even a part of it— has been helpful but sometimes has made it more difficult.”
But Brown has always known how to tackle even the most daunting of challenges. As her longtime friend and professional associate Peachy Kellmeyer of the WTA says, “Jane has had a real knack for working with people from different organizations. She taught me a very important thing—that you don’t need to know everything, but you should know where you need to go to find everything. People who survive in this sport for a long time are few and far between. Jane is definitely one of them. She is very smart and humble. Her thesis will be great because it is not just from a tennis perspective, but from the point of view of society.”
Brown will surely draw on all of her experiences amidst the inner chambers of the game in writing the thesis. She muses, “I loved all of my posts, but I did not want to let it go without looking back and figuring out what it all meant, and where it all went. When you are serving in those capacities you are constantly on the go, either traveling, running meetings or negotiating with sponsors. There was never much time to reflect.”
Now 80, she has been reflecting frequently these days on the game and what she did to shape it. Doing this thesis has enabled Brown to put fully in perspective the vast sweep of the sport and the astonishing evolution of the women’s game during the first four decades of the Open Era. When she turns her thesis in next spring, she will surely be rewarded for her hard efforts with a seal of approval from Cambridge and a well-deserved PhD.
Who could blame her if she then decided to take a long vacation and at least consider semi-retirement? But Jane Brown Grimes may have other notions. As she explains, “I would like to turn my thesis into a book. I feel it is very important that this is done as an academic piece to begin with. But if I have the time and the energy, I would love to make it into a book that isn’t academic. For me it is a big challenge to write a PhD Dissertation. The challenge is to get my thesis accepted, but writing a book after that would be something I know I would love doing.”