Peachy Kellmeyer Gets Her Day in the Sun

July 11, 2011

Newport, RI
—On Saturday July 9, Peachy Kellmeyer was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the highest honor in tennis. Over the past four decades, Peachy’s impact on women’s tennis has been far reaching. Known as an unsung hero to many, she demonstrated her passion and love for the game of tennis through the tireless work she put in to help establish what today has become the No. 1 professional sport for women.

“You’ve always been in my Hall of Fame,” said Stacey Allaster, CEO of the WTA, who was chosen by Peachy to give her presentation speech at the induction ceremony.

Allaster, along with former CEO of the WTA, Larry Scott, spearheaded Peachy’s nomination to the Hall of Fame. Scott, who attended the ceremony, couldn’t have been more pleased to celebrate Peachy’s induction. Chris Clouser, Chairman of the Tennis Hall of Fame, actually flew down to Australia in January (just after the holidays) to make an in-person announcement at the Australian Open about Peachy’s induction to the Hall of Fame. He flew back home the next day. “He’ll be forever my Santa Claus,” said Peachy.

Heading into the induction ceremony on Saturday, Peachy knew that she might be overshadowed by Andre Agassi’s induction, but she was able to maintain a good sense of humor about it. “I know I’m not the main attraction today, but I just want you to know Andre, I will be the opening act for you anytime,” said Peachy.

Fern Lee “Peachy” Kellmeyer was born in 1944 and was raised in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1959, Peachy became the youngest woman at that time to compete in the US Open, at age 15. Despite being born with a club foot, Peachy was able to overcome her physical challenges to become a successful junior and college tennis player. Her physical challenges taught her an important lesson in life: “You don’t have to be 100 percent to give 100 percent.”

At the University of Miami, Peachy became the first woman to compete on a men’s division 1 collegiate team (that’s right -- men’s division 1). In her post-college years, Peachy was ranked nationally in both singles and doubles, and competed at Wimbledon and the US Open.

She evolved into a pioneer for equal rights for women in sport. As a Physical Education Director at Marymount College in 1966, Peachy was instrumental in overturning a rule that prohibited college scholarships for women, in a lawsuit known as The Kellmeyer Case. “That’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life, because to me, it was so unfair and so wrong for women,” said Peachy. In her presentation speech, Allaster made sure to point out the lasting impact of Peachy’s efforts when it came to this victory. “Every woman today who has a college scholarship should thank Peachy.”

The WTA was formed in 1973, and it was at that time that Peachy was hired as the organization’s first official employee. Back in those days, there were only 23 US-based tournaments. Today, there are 53 tournaments in 33 different countries.

During her tenure with the WTA, Peachy focused her efforts on player and tournament relations, and operations, and was instrumental in the fight to gain equal pay for women at Grand Slam tournaments. Since 1973, prize money has increased from $309,000 to more than $89,000,000 in 2011.

Peachy’s current role as the WTA Operations Executive Consultant has given her a bit more freedom from the 9-to-5 schedule that she became accustomed to in her 38 years with the WTA, but at age 66, she isn’t anywhere close to retirement. She also serves as a member of the ITF Fed Cup Committee and oversees the WTA’s alumni program.

“I’m the happiest peach in Newport,” said Peachy, on her induction to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Congrats, Peachy. Well deserved.

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