Two-time grand slam winner Angela Buxton has died aged 85 in a Florida care home. Despite her success, she has in the main, gone unappreciated even to the extent that she never received an honorary membership to All England Club following her success in 1956 when she won the doubles and reached the singles final which she attributes to anti-Semitism.
The AELTC was deeply saddened to hear of Angela’s passing and offers condolences to her family and friends. Her contribution to The Championships, in particular with Althea Gibson, will be long remembered. AELTC statement
She applied for that membership virtually every year but was constantly denied it leading her to comment in 2004: “I think the anti-Semitism is still there. The mere fact that I’m not a member is a full sentence that speaks for itself. I wish it still wasn’t such an elite sport. I wish we could bring it down to a common baseline. It’s going that way. It’s still not there.”
In a statement issued by Wimbledon following her death, the Club said: “The AELTC was deeply saddened to hear of Angela’s passing and offers condolences to her family and friends. Her contribution to The Championships, in particular with Althea Gibson, will be long remembered. While the decision-making process for membership of the All England Club is a private matter, we strongly refute that race or religion plays a factor.”
Unfortunately that ‘snub’ festered with her for the latter part of her life but as the Club alludes, her partnership with Althea Gibson, the first African-American woman to win Wimbledon, the US Open and the French Open, will be long remembered.
Angela Buxton was born in Liverpool on August 16, 1934 and died on August 15, 2020, one day short of her 86th birthday.
She learnt much of her tennis in South Africa where her mother Violet took her and her brother in order to avoid the bombs of World War II.
On the family’s return in 1946, she was sent to a boarding school in Llandudno, Gloddaeth Hall, where her talent was spotted.
She quickly amassed a series of junior titles beating girls in all age groups and as a consequence, moved to improve her tennis from coaching at the Cumberland Club where she first ran into the anti-Semitism problem which was to dog her for the rest of her life.
When she showed interest in joining the club she was advised not to do so as she was Jewish. After that she made it a point to win the club championship on a regular basis.
On her parent’s divorce, her mother took Angela to Florida where she was again denied access to the elite Los Angeles Tennis Club because of her faith. Forced to practice on a public court, she met ‘Big’ Bill Tilden, another social outcast, who took her under his wing.
Buxton returned to England in 1953 and nearly gave up the sport when she was thrashed 6-0 6-0 by Doris Hart at the British Hardcourt Championships but for a trip to Israel, where success rebooted her confidence, and on her return was selected to join the 1954 British Wightman Cup team.
On a goodwill trip to India she met Gibson and it was there, in the realisation that both were outcasts, their long-term relationship took root and in 1956, they paired up to win the French Open doubles beating Americans, Darlene Hard & Dorothy Knode for the title.
At Wimbledon they looked unstoppable with Buxton arriving at SW19 having won the English Indoor and London Grass Court events, so it wasn’t surprising that she played her way to the Wimbledon finals in both the singles and doubles.
In the singles she met her match against Shirley Fry who had beaten Gibson in the quarter-finals, but in the doubles – where they had beaten Fry & Louise Brough in the semis – Gibson and Buxton outplayed the Australians Fay Muller & Daphne Seeney 6-1 8-6 for her second grand slam title.
A wrist injury a few weeks later brought her tennis career to a virtual end aged 22 when she turned to coaching and journalism teaming up with Clarence ‘Jimmy’ Jones who had been her ‘sponsor’ during the latter part of her career.
Jones was to become the greatest influence in her tennis life and on her divorce from Donald Silk – with whom she two sons and a daughter – became her long-standing companion.
But it is her relationship with Althea Gibson for which she will be best remembered as Katrina Adams, a former tennis player herself and USTA President commented: “(She) championed the friendship and support of Althea Gibson when no one else would, in a racist era in our sport in the ’50s.”
That friendship was put to the test when Gibson found herself during the latter part of her life in 1995, destitute and suicidal. Buxton immediately rose to the occasion by organising a campaign amongst the tennis fraternity which raised $1million to make Gibson’s final years a lot more comfortable.
The ITF acknowledged her passing by describing her as “an early pioneer of equal rights” which has been recognised by many as she was admitted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 while in 2015, she was inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.