Remembering Slew Hester
Sitting here at my breakfast bar, attuned to the Weather Channel late on a Wednesday morning waiting for the promised catastrophe and exhausted from wandering around Hacienda Hood acting like I’m doing things that will actually save hearth and home from total destruction from Isaac, a poor excuse for a hurricane but a rain event of the first order.
So, naturally, on opening week of the U.S. Open thoughts turn to late Hall member Slew Hester, founder of the River Hills Club in Jackson and builder of the National Tennis Center in the New York borough of Queens.
Slew was a big man with a big cigar and a bigger forehand who knew how to
get stuff done and we at the newspaper loved him dearly. He was a great,
great man. Slew shifted the Open from the leafy and tony West Side Tennis
Club to Flushing Meadows (think: Shea Stadium, LaGuardia airport, 1964
World’s Fair) in 1978. We sent Bernie Fernandez, Jackson Daily News sports
writer, up to New York to document proceedings from Slew’s point of view.
Two things stick with me, one published, one not. The deadline on the
complex was so tight that workers were still moving giant planters into
place even as the first matches were beginning. And when Bernie got back he
told me how Slew did it in an era of continual construction strikes. He did
what any right-thinking red-blooded man of ambition would have done: He went
to the Mob. I don’t recall which of the Five Families had dibs on the
construction rackets near LaGuardia, but, Bernie says Slew told him, he
appealed to their patriotic side and the project was completed in record
Oh, and the U.S. Tennis Association, of which Slew was president, named the
main stadium for Queens resident Louis Armstrong. The great Sachmo.
How cool is that….