Mildred Shahian, whose life was devoted to table tennis--both as a World and National Champion, and as the Manager for 40 years of Chicago's well-known Net and Paddle Club--died of cardiac arrest, April Fools Day, 1992. Her close friend of 30 years, Jim Lazarus, agonized over her, comforted her, in her last days in the hospital after she'd suffered a heart attack, a stroke, and total kidney failure.
Millie of course for two decades was an outstanding player. With her close-to-the-table block and hit game she won the U.S. Women's Singles Championship in 1954 and 1962, and from 1942 on won six National Women's Doubles and one Mixed Doubles titles.
In 1950 she became the prestgious English Open Champion in an era where other titleholders were World Women's Singles Champions Gizella Farkas of Hungary and Trude Pritzi of Austria.
Although Millie represented the U.S. in three World Championships, her most memorable one was in Stockholm in 1949 when, with teammates 1948 U.S. Champion Peggy McLean and 1948 World Mixed Doubles Champion and '49 World Women's Singles semifinalist Thelma "Tybie" Thall Sommer, she was a member of the winning Corbillon Cup Team that beat Hungary 3-2 in the semi's and England 3-1 in the final. The Hungary tie was particularly exciting, for Millie had to play the fifth and final match. "My arm was petrified," she wrote me; but her opponent, Rozsi Karpati, "played with tears streaming down her face," because World Champion Farkas had lost earlier to McLean. "To be honest," Millie wrote, "Karpati was not too good [in the '51 World's, Karpati and fellow Hungarian Jozsef Koczian would lose in the semi's of the Mixed Doubles in five to the eventual winners, the incomparable Vana and Rozeanu], so when I managed to win the first game at deuce, the second was easy." For her Corbillon Cup play throughout, Millie was ranked World #6.
If anyone ever really loved our Sport it was Mildred Shahian. She was a true aficionado. "It's a hard, hard life trying to run a successful club," she'd tell me again and again over the years. "There are no table tennis 'bums' anymore," she'd lament, thinking longingly of Herwald Lawrence's atmospheric New York City Club in the heyday of the hard-rubber-bat era. "People just don't seem to want to play every day anymore."
In 1970, almost 30 years after she'd won her first National Championship, Millie was still ranked U.S. #7. Shortly thereafter, though, she retired from serious competition, then continued to play recreationally.
"Once you stop playing you aren't much in the table tennis world," she once wrote me. "That's why I still remember the 'Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!' you shouted for me back in 1980 when I was inducted at the Hall of Fame ceremonies."