FAMU administrators, retired faculty and politicians remembered FAMU tennis legend Althea Gibson at a memorial service Wednesday in Lee hall. Although Gibson was known for her athletic talents, many who knew her said she left an everlasting mark of courage, wisdom and inspiration.
“Althea made FAMU known to the world,” said Hansel Tookes Sr., 83, a former FAMU athletic director and coach. “She touched me and my family.she used to baby-sit for me. Her death is a terrible loss.”
Gibson was a ferocious competitor on the FAMU tennis courts long before she became the first black, man or woman, to win a Wimbledon title. Friends and former athletic officials spoke fondly of the 76-year-old woman who died Sunday in East Orange, N.J.
Tookes said Gibson’s fighting spirit made her one of the most feared players on the collegiate circuit. Gibson played tennis four seasons at FAMU and graduated in 1954. She also played on the women’s basketball team.
“Althea made a difference at FAMU.she is the mistress of tennis.” said Annette Thorpe, a retired assistant professor of English, who knew Gibson.
Tallahassee Mayor John Marks spoke of Gibson’s impact beyond FAMU.
“She has become a tremendous icon for our community, FAMU, the nation and the world,” Marks said.
Friends at the service said Gibson was well-liked and very active on campus. She would play pool in Sampson Hall and beat all the guys, said longtime Tallahassee resident Tommy Mitchell, who knew Gibson when she was playground manager at a local park.
“Althea and I were line partners, graduation partners and teammates on the basketball team,” said Edwina Martin, a retired physical education faculty member. “She always believed she was somebody.not only was she a great athlete, she was a business woman.”
Martin and Gibson were responsible for keeping a log of all the students that attended convocation. Martin joked about how Gibson came up with the idea of telling students they would be excused if they gave them 25 cents apiece.
“Twenty five cents was like five dollars back then,” Martin said.
It’s not just the older generation that remembers Gibson. Current FAMU tennis players, who were not even born when Gibson was snatching tennis championships in the 1950s, said Gibson was someone who marked their lives.
“Althea has made a great impact on my life as an African American. She fought civil rights through sports. She is a leader amongst Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X,” said Jarel Williams, 18, a freshman tennis player from Atlanta.
“I did a report on her and I know that it took hard work and determination to reach those levels of triumph,” said Charlana Brown, 20, a junior broadcast journalism student from Los Angeles.
Frank Green, 19, a sophomore tennis player and business student from Philadelphia feels honored to be following in Gibson’s footsteps.
“She is one of the most inspiring black athletes today,” Green said. “It is an honor to play on the same field as her and to attend the same university.”
Benjamin Evans III can be reached at email@example.com