In words, music, songs, prayers and above all, glorious smiles, the family and friends of legendary tennis journalist Bud Collins gathered inside Trinity Church at Copley Square Friday afternoon for a two-hour memorial service to celebrate his life.
Much like Collins, who died in March at age 86, the ceremony was witty and smart and touching, as elegant and flawless as Wimbledon’s emerald lawn. Some of the biggest names in the game — Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and others — came from far and wide to speak fondly of a man who was their loyal friend, their trusted confidant, and the singular authority of the sport he so dearly loved.
They shared stories of Collins’s clever turns of phrase, his trademark crazy wardrobe, his passion for everything about the game and everyone who played it.
“Bud will be remembered most of all for his wonderful, unique sense of humor,’’ noted Evert, one of five speakers to offer remembrances during the ceremony. “But what I admired about him, more than anything, was his extraordinary kindness, his decency and his sensitivity.
“Bud was one of the finest and tennis will never be the same. He will be the lasting imprint on our sport, and on our souls.’’
King, long ago dubbed “Mother Freedom’’ by the moniker-loving Collins, wore a shocking pink jacket to the ceremony. Because pink was “Bud’s favorite color,’’ she said, and this was a day, what would have been his 87th birthday, to give him everything he wanted.
King, whose courage boosted the women’s game to new heights in the 1970s, particularly when she thumped loudmouth huckster Bobby Riggs in a ballyhooed matchup, regaled the gathering of some 2,000 with stories dating to the first time she met Collins more than a half-century ago. He was there in London, she recalled, when she and Karen Hantze, both fresh-faced teenagers, won the ladies doubles at Wimbledon in 1961.
“We were so excited,’’ recalled King, now 72 years old. “Bud’s talking to us after the match and he goes, ‘Well, what kind of dress do you have for the ball tonight? What are you guys wearing?’ Karen looks at me, and we go, ‘Are you kidding? We only have three dollars. We don’t have money to buy a dress!’ ’’
Stunned, Collins quickly extended a dinner invitation to the young champs. The three of them dined on spaghetti, and to celebrate properly, the friendly scribe from the Boston Globe suggested they order champagne.
“Karen and I look at each other and we go, ‘We don’t drink,’ ’’ said King. “And Bud goes, ‘Great . . . cheap dates.’ He was so much fun . . . oh, golly.’’
Both Evert and King noted how they trusted Collins.
“He was trustworthy and compassionate,’’ said Evert, noting how she was comforted by Collins immediately after losses in seven Wimbledon finals. “I knew at that moment Bud Collins would take care of me.’’
“I just loved him from that moment,’’ said King, thinking back to the first day she met Collins. “I felt safe.’’
Raised in Berea, Ohio, Collins was the grandson of missionaries, imbued with a sense of giving and, family and friends noted, a love for life and travel and everything that combination would give him to chronicle, be his words written or spoken.
“Bud Collins is from Berea,’’ said Lesley Visser, who became a member of the Globe’s writing staff out of Boston College in the mid-’70s and soon joined Collins covering Wimbledon, “but he belonged to the world.’’
Visser, saying she represented the scores who Collins mentored over the years, was among a group of well-known TV personalities in attendance, including Dick Enberg (Collins’s partner at Wimbledon in their NBC days), Bob Costas, Mike Lupica (once a Globe copyboy), Frank Deford, Bob Ryan, and Dan Shaughnessy.
Ryan and Shaughnessy joined retired Globe staffer John Powers as ushers, all of them decked out in bowties in homage to Collins. It was a day that would have Ryan telling Laver it was indeed “an honor to meet you,’’ a day when former copyboys recalled how Collins treated them from Day 1 not as kids, but as fellow workers in the telling of stories.
“There was no B list with Bud,’’ said Visser. “Everyone was on the A list.’’
Collins’s wife, photographer Anita Ruthling Klaussen, spoke of her good fortune to be “married to an angel’’ these last 20-plus years. They met in the mid-’90s at a dinner arranged by a mutual friend, former Globe editor Tim Leland, a sprite of a man whom Collins dubbed “Charlie Atlas.’’
“A tribute to my buffed-up physique,’’ noted Leland.
Her voice choked with emotion near the end of the ceremony, a fete she painstakingly prepared the past three-plus months, Klaussen noted, “Bud will now and forever be the rainbow over Wimbledon.’’
The choirs of Trinity Church accompanied a handful of soloists, including singers and instrumentalists, helping to make the celebration a dynamic presentation. The man who wrote about triumph and loss, legends and hackers, was sent off with rich readings (“To everything there is a season . . . ’’) and magnificent song (“Amazing Grace’’; “Ave Maria’’).
Jayne Anne Phillips, whom Collins lovingly named “The Author,” read from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.’’ “Our revels now are ended,’’ wrote The Bard. “These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air.’’
Following the ceremony, many in the gathering made their way slightly west for a reception at Boston University, where many of Collins’s works have been preserved at the Howard Gottlieb Memorial Gallery. Collins earned his undergraduate degree at Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio, then moved to Boston in the late 1950s to pursue a master’s degree in communication at BU. He quickly caught the news bug.
“What keeps you going?’’ King recalled asking Collins in more recent years. “He’d say, ‘Billie, it’s the story . . . it’s the story.’ ’’
Klaussen just recently donated a pair of Collins’s outlandish pants to The Sports Museum. According to curator Richard Johnson, they’ll soon be on display inside the Garden, the museum’s home on Causeway Street. It was the pair of pants Collins wore to the “Rumble in the Jungle’’ heavyweight bout, 1974 in Zaire, between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
According to Johnson, he visited the home Collins and Klaussen shared for years in Brookline to accept the pants. He and Klaussen chatted at the dining room table, where a portion of Collins’s ashes were preserved in a Wimbledon teapot in the shape of a tennis ball.
“Engaging. Funny. Not the slightest bit of artifice,’’ said Johnson, echoing the familiar list of Collins attributes. “If you met him, you immediately felt this friendship. He was always so damned nice.’’