by David Nash
On Monday, April 8, I awoke to the news that one of my best friends, Richard (Dick) Johnson, had died in his sleep. This is a huge loss to so many. Dick’s wife, Liz, lost the love of her life. Dick was a father, grandfather, coach/teacher, a son-in-law, and a friend to many. The tennis world lost one of its most legendary competitors. We are all stunned and sad.
A week ago, Dick and Liz spent five days with us in Florida. Typical of tennis players, we discussed old matches, and I asked him, “What would you say were your most memorable career moments.” Dick was typically humble, but he shared some great stories. Dick was looking forward to playing a National Tournament in May and planned to join Jimmy Parker, a long-time friend and competitor from St. Louis, at the World Championships in Croatia. His only dilemma was how he would manage to juggle his tennis and pickleball tournaments (a recently acquired sport where he had already won a National title.)
He was born in Rockford, Illinois, but lived most of his life in St Louis, Missouri. He played tennis for Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University. He spent a year on the tour but gave it up to become a teaching professional. He recently retired as the head tennis professional at the Country Club of St. Louis. In 1997 he was named to the Missouri Valley Tennis Hall of Fame.
Dick loved tennis and was a fierce, classy, well-respected player. At age 74, he looked and moved like a much younger player. Throughout his life he spent most of his vacation time competing in tournaments; locally, nationally, and internationally. As a singles player, he was consistently ranked in the top four in his senior age division, but he was especially known as a brilliant doubles player. Every player felt confident and lucky to have Dick as a partner. I was fortunate to share the court with Dick numerous times. He earned over 60 gold balls, the coveted award for winning a National tournament. Since the 1980s, almost every year, Dick was elected to the U.S. team participating in the ITF World Team and Individual Championships. In 2015, Dick won the senior World Singles Title in Croatia, gaining his highest ranking ever. Dick participated in tournaments throughout the U.S. and across Europe, competing in England, France, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic as well as South Africa.
We will miss him immensely and treasure the good times we all shared with him.