Jimmie “Doc” Horne Sr., a tennis standout once barred from white courts in an era of segregation, did not wait for somebody else to design a program to expose city kids in West Palm Beach to the sport. Nor did he wait to be paid. Retiring after 34 years as a teacher in area schools, he just showed up and did it.
That generosity and commitment helped make him a community legend, say those who gathered to remember him before his burial. Mr. Horne died peacefully December 2, 2008 at age 88.
In 1990, the city of West Palm Beach proclaimed March 17 as Jimmie “Doc” Horne Appreciation Day. The tennis facilities at Gaines Park are named for him. In 1994, he was one of six recipients nationally of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Community Service Award.
Early in their careers, Venus and Serena Williams and their father used to practice at Gaines Park, said son Jimmie “Bo” Horne.
“He was referred to by Venus and Serena as their tennis grandfather,” he said. “My daddy was resilient. He used to say, ‘If you want to be something in this life, you’ve got to start it.’”
Mr. Horne, who attended Florida A&M, won a state tennis championship in 1947 in the “all black division.” He became the first registered black tennis pro in Florida, according to a family-supplied biography. After serving as a quartermaster in the U.S. Army, he taught woodworking and carpentry for more than three decades at the former Roosevelt High School and North Tech Institute.
“He was an icon of the community,” said Reed Daniel, the campus manager for youth empowerment centers in West Palm Beach. “I’ll always remember him on the court with 10 or 12 kids standing at attention like a little army. He was holding a sign, ‘Tennis is a Quiet Sport.’ I loved that. Some of those kids were too young to read. But they did what he said.”
Only years after he started did Mr. Horne receive even part-time pay for his efforts, Daniel said.
“There’s almost nobody in the black community who played tennis who didn’t learn it at least in part from Doc Horne,” said Malcolm Cunningham, an attorney who has represented the Williams sisters.
Mr. Horne is survived by his son, two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.