A Lesson Untaught
When Gaeton Fonzi moved to Florida in 1972, he took the state seriously. He got into boating, got his captain’s license and spent many hours over the next several decades maintaining a sailboat, and occasionally even using it. He once made it all the way to the Bahamas, but when returning to Miami he encountered the gulfstream and wound up in Palm Beach, and was happy to be there. He also eventually got into distance running and knocked off a marathon or two. He also played tennis, and liked to write about it.
It was tennis that almost brought Jimmy Evert into his life. Gaeton’s wife Marie decided it would be a hoot to buy Gaeton one lesson from Chris Evert’s father as a Christmas present. Chris at the time was young in what would be an illustrious career. It was a touching idea, and of course Jimmy Evert did not think so. He explained to Marie that one lesson for a 38-year-old man wasn’t exactly what he did for a living. He did not have to explain that he worked with young players, such as his own kids, getting them ready for Wimbledon.
Marie knew that, of course, but she can be persuasive, and she explained that it would mean a lot to her husband. She probably did not tell Mr. Evert that Gaeton would likely write an amusing article about it. The Fonz was known for hard-hitting investigative pieces, such as his stories in Philadelphia magazine that helped prompt the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the powerful Walter Annenberg, to sell the newspaper and leave town. Or, after Fonzi came to Florida, his work on the Kennedy Assassination that has gone a long way toward convincing most of our countrymen that JFK was killed by a government conspiracy, and not by a lone nut. But he also had a delightful touch on shorter, less earth-shattering topics, such as growing up above the Hudson River in New Jersey, dreaming of becoming Joe DiMaggio.
As fate would happen, the tennis lesson never happened. According to Marie, the lesson was scheduled twice, but both times canceled because of rain. It must have been summer. Marie lost interest in pursuing the matter, and we feel sure Gaeton was not nuts about wasting a great teacher’s time in the first place. Since Gaeton left us two years ago, and Jimmy Evert just recently, that will remain a lesson untaught. There is scant evidence that the history of tennis would have been altered in any event.
Now an Evert family story that did happen was some 20 years later. One of the qualities of Jimmy Evert and his wife Colette was that they never let daughter Chris’ fame affect their lifestyle much. For a while you might even call them the first family of Fort Lauderdale, but they remained a low-key couple, faithful to the values they grew up with. Their kids all went through St. Anthony School, which was within walking distance of their first home.
Their five kids were long gone from the school in the early 1990s when our mother-in-law, well into her 80s and not well, came to live with us. She wasn’t up to attending Sunday mass, but Catholic parishes have a program that brought communion to the homes of the sick. For several years a very pleasant woman who showed up faithfully week after week performed this duty, cheering on our mother-in-law throughout the process. The communion bearer’s name was Colette Evert, mother to a champion, wife of a legendary coach and provider of a lesson in humility, grace and kindness.