Remembering Arthur Ashe Speaking at Penn (39 Weeks To Go)

By Kiera Reilly, C’93

While sorting through old photos, I found this photo from our senior year. It is the board of Connaissance, photographed with Albert Moore, our staff advisor for SAC activities, and legendary tennis player Arthur Ashe.

Arthur Ashe speaks at University of Pennsylvania invited by Connaissance

Connaissance board members pose with Connaissance Fall 1992 Speaker Arthur Ashe. L-R Caren Lissner, C’93, Robyn Reifman, C’94, Mark Whitcher, W’93, Arthur Ashe, Kiera Reilly, C’93, Meg O’Leary, C’94, and Albert Moore from the Office of Student Affairs. (note the halo around Caren’s head is how the photo was developed!)

I did not remember much about the speech – I remember Mr. Ashe came to Penn, that I went with Meg to pick him up at 30th Street Station, and that he died not long after he visited Penn.

I hoped that Caren, Robyn, Mark, Meg and Albert might recall more than that, and Meg was the only one that had a clear memory. She wrote:

My biggest memories are of the drive picking him up at the train station.  If you remember, I hadn’t had my driver’s license very long and not a whole lot of experience driving.  My driving made Mr. Ashe quite nervous – he held the dashboard the whole way and kept asking questions of Kiera, basically asking if she’d like to take over the driving and making sure that I was going the right way.  I don’t think I drove him back to the station though. It wasn’t that long after that he died, and I remember feeling a little guilt that maybe my driving had stressed him out and made his illness worse.

I also remember that, of all our speakers, I felt that he was the most modest.  He asked for very little special treatment – just reimbursement for his travel costs (he took the train from NYC; so pretty inexpensive) and a very reasonable speaking fee.  And, in person, he was very unassuming and didn’t put on any airs, was quite down to earth.

Luckily, The Daily Pennsylvanian sent staff writer Charles Ornstein, C’96, (now a Senior Reporter for ProPublica), and he filed this report (you can see a PDF of the article here).

Arthur Ashe speaking at the University of Pennsylvania November 4, 1992

Arthur Ashe speaking at the University Museum on November 4, 1992.

Arthur Ashe speaking at the University of Pennsylvania, photo by Steve Waxman, the DP

The DP Arthur Ashe AIDS

DP staff writer Charles Ornstein

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

The Daily Pennsylvanian covers Arthur Ashe's visit to Penn for Connaissance

Meg’s memory is correct about Mr. Ashe being so humble. As soon as I read her note, I remembered that too. We were fortunate to help bring many prominent speakers to campus, and as Connaissance board members we often had dinner with them before the speech. But he was probably the nicest and most unassuming speaker I ever met. It was a true honor to meet him and have him speak at Penn.

While he was on campus, Mr. Ashe spoke with DP Sports Writer Jonathan Mayo. The link to their conversation as published in the DP is here.

Sadly, Meg was correct in her recollection that Mr. Ashe died not long after he visited Penn. The DP reported his death on February 8, 1993.

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion Countdown

The weekend of August 11 – 12, 2017, marked 39 weeks until the 25th Reunion of the Penn Class of 1993 (May 11 – 14, 2018)!

Join us we count down the weeks to our reunion #93tothe25th:

  • Do you have old photos or mementos from our time at Penn? Photos of Spring Fling? Football at Franklin Field? Classes at DRL? We are taking a trip down memory lane and would love for you to share your memories with our class in a future post. Please email us upenn1993@gmail.com!
  • Join our reunion committee – email Lisa Grabelle at lisagrabelle@yahoo.com.
  • Follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.
  • Classmates are invited to join our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Important hotel update! Overwhelming response from our great class has sold out the Downtown Marriott Class of 1993 room block for Saturday night. There are alternative hotels. We recommend booking ASAP! Please see our class website for additional details.

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Filed under 25th Reunion, Class of 1993, Kiera R., Memories of Penn

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