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CP: Applewood Lane Gang

December 4, 2012 04:35 PM

The Applewood Lane Gang


A man, a tennis court and a life with good friends



Bill_Edward_relaxingBillEdwardWhat are we going to do now?


That thought dawned swiftly on Bill Edward’s many tennis buddies. With Bill gone, the end of their matches together seemed imminent. After all, it was Bill’s tennis court they used.


William Oberg Edward (pictured, right) —Big Bill, King Edward—died Jan. 1, 2012.  For 40 years, he and a group of about 10 companions played tennis regularly. Their matches took place on a court that sat in the side yard of Edward’s home in the North Valley of Albuquerque. 


Bill was 81 when he left the party, and he hadn’t picked up a racket in a while. Near the end he would come outside when he could and sit for a spell. He would watch as his friends, creaky gents now in their 70s and 80s, knocked balls around. He’d grin at their grunts and squawks. Sometimes he would laugh his great thundering ho-ho-ho laugh that seemed to originate at his shoe tops.


The laugh gave everyone hope.


With Bill’s passing, however, the doubles games, always at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, year round, appeared to be over. Two out of three sets, with players rotating in and out, and then everyone drifting to the patio behind Bill’s house for a cold beer and warm talk. Not surprisingly, Bill supplied both, along with new tennis balls.


All that was history now, the guys figured. An era surely had passed.


In mid-February of this year, Mary Lou Edward, Bill’s widow, his wife of 58 years, an energetic, gracious woman, felt something was amiss. Something was different, and wrong.


Bills_empty_chair_002When she looked out her kitchen window at Bill's old empty chair on the lawn one Saturday afternoon, Mary Lou knew exactly what it was that bothered her.  


No one was playing tennis.


She did not like that, not one bit. Mary Lou quickly telephoned Livingston Parsons, 87, the senior of the tennis bunch. Once a letterman at Princeton, Parsons later was a USTA tournament competitor, and one of the original members of the Applewood Lane gang.  


"Livy, aren’t you guys going to play tennis here anymore?" Mary Lou asked.


Dumbstruck. That’s how Parsons felt. "Well, I … I didn’t know if …"


Nonsense, Mary Lou said. "You tell everyone to come back and play on the weekends, just

like they used to do. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I’d feel better if you all started playing

here again."


So that’s what happened. By the end of February, everyone began coming back to 16 Applewood Lane. Everyone, of course, except Big Bill.


A striking figure


A skilled ophthalmologist, devoted to his patients, Bill Edward practiced medicine for nearly 45 years. He grew up in Utah, tall and handsome, with an imperial presence. An enthusiastic skier, he played freshman basketball at Yale, which he attended as an undergraduate and as a medical student.  


Bill_Edward_volleyingWhen Bill and Mary Lou settled in Albuquerque in 1962, he took up tennis. Always stubborn, relentlessly independent, Bill (pictured, right) refused to take lessons. No tips from some club pro for him.


"Bill hated authority figures," Mary Lou said the other day when the gang gathered at her house to reminisce about their friend and to play a set or three. 


Self-taught, Big Bill hit the ball hard if not elegantly. Didn’t matter. So infatuated was he with tennis that in 1971 he had a court built, to the east of his house on Applewood. It was surrounded by numerous apple trees and, later, by cherry trees Bill planted.


The court initially was Laykold. After a few years, cracks started showing, followed by interminable patching.  More cracks opened, more patching applied. Bill finally had the hard court torn out and replaced with synthetic carpet and sand. Omni-turf, it’s called. A gentler surface for his gentlemen friends.


From the first, Bill’s tennis-playing pals belonged to Albuquerque’s medical community, smaller back then and far chummier than today. Livy Parsons, a general surgeon and Byron Beddo, a family practitioner, signed on. So did the internist Ulton "Bud" Hodgin and the dermatologist Don Harville. Reginald Strickland, "Reg" to all, a gastroenterologist who taught at the new UNM Medical School, rounded out the group’s original five. Six, counting Bill.   


"We weren’t world-class players," remembered Strickland. "But we were always competitive. Everyone liked to win. No, there were no fisticuffs."


"No trash talking," added Parsons.


There were arguments, to be sure. Bill once threatened to get an umpire’s chair and set it courtside. That comment brought a crack about an eye doctor who might need his eyes checked.


Bill made all the weekend arrangements by telephone. He’d call the guys on a Thursday or Friday night and yak socially with their wives or kids, to whom he bestowed such nicknames as "My Gal Sal" and "Holly Golly." Eventually he’d line up enough people to play that weekend.  


It could be 100 degrees and out there they would be, at 2 p.m., like mad dogs and Englishmen. "Have some sunscreen," skin doc Don Harville harped, summer and winter. 


If a physician was on call that weekend, which occurred periodically, it wasn’t unusual to see him run off Bill’s court to his car while a replacement jumped out of a chair and beelined to the Omni-turf.


Order on the court


From the beginning rules were established. If you were the first to arrive, you swept the court. You cleaned the lines and made sure the sand was spread evenly.


"There were some guys who always timed it to be late," Parsons said with a chuckle.


New servers were to announce "First ball in," shortened to "FBI."


If a server’s ball hit the net and took a long roll, "Take two" was voiced.


"Play it over" kept line-call fussing to a minimum.


At the center of these contests stood Big Bill. If he wasn’t playing, he was talking. Not exactly lecturing though Edward knew something about almost everything. Brilliant is a word his friends readily use to describe him. A man of science with a true curiosity, he could discuss knowingly geology, zoology, psychology and of course that incessant quagmire, healthcare in America.


He told war stories—about riding in Air Force planes over atomic bomb test sites during the late 1950s. He knew as much if not more than the next guy about literature, art and philosophy.


Bill’s friends adored him, and it was not just because of his generosity. He made them feel at home, comfortable, more learned. They took skiing vacations together in Colorado in the winter and in summer chilled at the Edwards’ cabin on the Brazos River in northern New Mexico. The men’s wives drew close.


In time, Bill went out and recruited more players. He pulled in Eric Best, a good-natured  internist. He got other docs—not medical ones, but academics, like William "Bud" Davis, the former president of the University of New Mexico, and Russ Goodman, a regents professor of philosophy at UNM.  He invited Steve Stribling, a Corrales real estate broker, mostly because Stribling made Bill laugh. 


"We didn’t play great tennis," Stribling recalled. "But we could sure pick cherries well."


Said Best, "What we did out on this court was not a spectator sport."


A welcome addition


Mary Lou Edward would be around for the drinks, the laughs and the après-tennis conversation. She played tennis well, but the weekend matches with the guys, that was Bill’s thing. 


Not to suggest that the matches were a Men Only thing. As a young woman, Annette Arrigoni had been a patient of Bill’s. She casually mentioned that she’d been ranked in the Southwest in women’s doubles. She was 20 years younger than the youngest man at Bill’s. She was attractive.


"You’ll have to join us," Big Bill said. His was not an invitation; it was a direct order.     


Arrigoni enlisted and became the first and only female member of the Applewood Lane gang.


"She lifted all our games," Parsons said.


"This man saved my life," Arrigoni, 51, said the other day. She pointed at Don Harville. At Bill’s court one Sunday afternoon some years before, Arrigoni had shown Harville a spot on her leg. Another doc had told her it was probably nothing. Even so, she worried. Harville said to come to his office the following week. He did a biopsy. It was a melanoma.


The group showed their appreciation to Bill in various ways. In 2004, Bud Davis wrote a long, poetic tribute to the court, to the players, to the owner. Here’s a verse:


Tis true that Bill’s the only one,

who never serves into the sun,

or never hits a ball that’s out,

or double faults or even pouts.

Nor muffs a call at line or net,

or an overhead he cannot get.

No one doubts his veracity,

he’s master of the court you see.


Applewood_Lane_Gang_007Medical problems have a way of catching up with people, even medical people. Bud Hodgin has been nagged by orthopedic ailments, including sciatica.  Bud Davis has cut back on his tennis due to arm trouble. Byron Beddo, one of the originals, died in 2007, the first of the gang to go. He was 78.


No one believed the tennis would go on forever, but no one thought about it either. Two years ago, Bill started to slow down.  He’d sit out matches.  Aching back, he’d mutter.


No one was buying that, but Bill, as was his wont, stuck to it. Somehow, the word got out. Bill had a nasty tumor, a sarcoma, deep in his gut.  It was the same thing that killed Byron Beddo.


Big Bill’s M.D. pals questioned him about his treatment, but Bill, stubborn to the end, wouldn’t reveal much. Even to own son, John Edward, a ball boy for the gang back in the ’70s, Bill did not discuss his diagnosis.


Livy Parsons does the arranging now. He makes the calls on Thursday or Friday night.


"We all really miss Bill," Parsons said. "When his health started failing, he encouraged us to keep using the court. ‘Think of it as your court, Livy,’ he told me. ‘Yours and the guys.’ But I said, ‘No, no. It will always be your court, Bill.’"

The truth? It belongs to both.





Toby_Smith_tennisCOUNTERPUNCHER is an exclusive online series written by Toby Smith, former Albuquerque Journal reporter,  three-time USTA Southwest Media Excellence winner, and past Section Marketing Committee member.


Smith knows the landscape of tennis well, especially here in the Southwest, writing on tennis for more than 40 years. 


To reach Toby, contact him at tobysmith68@gmail.com or505-681-0667      .  


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