David Haskell
Remembering My Best Friend

By Terry Ann Knopf
Saturday, July 10. It was a bright and balmy morning - a picture-perfect day for tennis - when I received the fateful call. Jean Haskell, David's sister was on the line, calling from Philadelphia, with the sad news. David - her "litttle brother," as she called him and "my best friend," as I liked to call him - was gone.

Although the news was not unexpected, it was still a terrible shock. After two years, David had lost his battle against lung cancer.

Today, it is fitting that we remember and celebrate David's life here at the Cambridge Tennis Club. For tennis was truly his grand passion and the Cambridge Tennis Club - this quirky tennis oasis hidden away behind this little brown gingerbread house - was the place he felt most at home. I know, because once in an unguarded moment, he told me so.

Indeed, as David was failing and barely able to speak, one of his few happy moments came when he felt well enough to attend the annual Cambridge Tennis Club barbecue on this past Memorial Day. As he sat on the deck, enjoying a burger or two and Joe DeBassio's famous chocolate-chip cookies, you could see the delight on his face as one after another of you came up to him to chat and wish him well.

In better days, David could be found here three and sometimes four times a week. And, I think what was special about David was that he epitomized what was best about this glorious sport.

His was a quiet, steady presence on court - always the gentleman. No one ever heard him gloat in victory or whine in defeat. No one ever accused him of fudging on a call. No one ever saw him berate his partner - even when he or she missed a critical shot.

And certainly, no one ever saw him toss his racquet. Once while David was playing on Court 1 and I was playing women's doubles on Court 2, he made an error on a critical point, and dropped his racquet in frustration. Nancy Hemenway, playing in our group, could only smile. "That's the angriest I've ever seen David," she said.

Aside from our shared values about the world, the special bond that David and I enjoyed was based on our mutual passions about politics, tennis and a love of sports generally, especially the Red Sox. Indeed, as David's physical and mental abilities began to fade - he couldn't even work the TV remote - he still found pleasure in watching Pedro's artistry on the mound and Manny Ramirez' sweet swing on his TV.

Sometimes, people would ask me, "What is David really like?" Certain things are clear. David liked his coffee black, his ice cream loaded with nuts, and his food sprinkled with lots of salt. In more important ways, he was difficult to read.

Suffice to say, David was the same on and off the court - quiet, dignified, fiercely independent and something of an enigma. A fellow psychiatrist once said, "David is the quietest man I've ever met."

Indeed, his reserve could be maddening. For whatever reasons, there was a part of him that he kept hidden away for safe-keeping. But when he chose to speak or react, his words were invariably thoughtful and concise.

Though very serious by nature, David did have a playful side. He admired the great Pete Sampras. Yet, his all-time favorite tennis player was John McEnroe, as much for his brashness as his artistry on court. His two favorite basketball players were those bad boys Charles Barclay and Allen Iverson. And, his favorite public affairs show - contrary to what you might expect - was not "Meet the Press," but the more outlandish "McLaughlin Group."

David died the way he lived. he never complained; he never asked for help. He continued to drive his car, despite double vision - until his family and friends would no longer drive with him. Once, as we were making our way from a parking lot to a Chestnut Hill restaurant, it was clear he was having difficulty walking - shuffling would be a more accurate word. But when I instinctively took his arm, he brushed me off. "Don't do that," he said sternly. At the time, I was hurt; I later realized what a proud man he was.

As we remember David on this day, each of us will have our own thoughts as to what made him unique. For me, it was his character - his sense of fairness, his decency and, above all, his refusal to judge.

All this, and he was a damned fine tennis player, too.
 Version: 1036 | Series: 1036