Last week I went to the memorial service for A. Carter Fergusson. It was also a service for his wife Dudy.
They were always together. Carter was the Cal Ripkin of squash, playing in the National Singles an unprecedented sixty-two straight years; and Dudy was the most loyal spouse in squash history, as she came to fifty-five straight National Singles. She missed a few in the early years, not from disinterest but from parenting.
The best story, one repeated by Ben Heckscher in his eulogy at the service, was about the 1952 National Singles. It was at Yale’s Payne Whitney in New Haven. Carter beat a British doctor in the first round in three; then J. Wyer from New York 16-13 in the fifth. In the quarterfinals on Saturday evening, he outlasted Henri Salaun, the great champion, 15-9 in the fifth—a fantastic result.
He was awakened early Sunday morning by a phone call (Carter told me about trundling down a drafty cold hallway to a phone) from Dudy. She had just given birth to their daughter Margie. In a classic line, Carter asked Dudy, “Well, can I stay for the lunch?”
He then went out and played in the semis. He lost in four to Harry Conlon, the eventual winner. (I suspect he had trouble concentrating.) He stayed for lunch and then took the train back to Philadelphia.
Carter was a great player. A few weeks ago I saw his trophy cabinet. Three times he won the Woodruff-Nee at the University Club of Washington (and was runner-up twice). He had a number of Lockett Cup trophies from winning that tri-city event. He lost in the finals of the 1948 Gold Racquets to Diehl Mateer and in the finals of the 1959 Harry Cowles to Henri Salaun. In 1951 he won the club championship at Merion Cricket—the hardest club championship in the country—and lost in the finals there in 1950, 1954 and 1957. He lost in the finals of the national 40+ in 1965 to Vic Seixas (his wife Dolly Ann was at the service).
The U.S. Open starts this week and Carter even had a trophy from winning the consolation draw in 1959. Any thoughts to reviving a consolation draw? Wouldn’t that be neat.
One trophy was missing. Carter played in sixty-two straight National Singles. In 1948 in his very first year at the Nationals, he won a national title when he lead the Philadelphia team to victory in the five-man tournament. Oh, if it always was so easy. The following year, the Philly team lost in the finals (Carter had the trophy). And then sixty more years of never winning a second national title. I assumed that would be the most prized possession of all, but it wasn’t.
It was perseverance, resilience, grit that brought Carter Fergusson every winter back to the tournament, year after year after year, not some trophy. And it was something else. It was the people. It was his love of the squash community. It was his friends.
“Well, can I stay for the lunch?”