USA Table Tennis

Reba Kirson Monness, a former U.S. Women's Singles Champion, died unexpectedly in her bed, May 10, 1980, at her home in New York City. She was a dynamic and controversial figure up to the end--having attended the 1979 U.S. Open not as a player but as a still quite voluble spectator, just getting over, she hoped, "a deep depression."

Back in the 1930's and '40's, Reba wrote monthly column after monthly column for Topics called, varyingly, "More or Less" or "The Feminine Angle" or "A Gal's Slant."

Here are just a few excerpts:

"A GAL'S SLANT
'All the reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women.' 
--Voltaire

...In 1938 I went to Florida for the winter and with a few days' practice won the State Table Tennis Championship....

...T.T. was now 'in the blood.' In my bedroom the night of the finals I made synthetic balls of newspaper and batted them all over the walls and ceiling....

...The theatrical 'Variety' magazine reported that 'in her [exhibition] matches with Barna, Ruth Aarons is not winning by such a wide margin now, for Barna is steadily improving.'...

...Douglas Cartland, honor grad of U. of N. Carolina, is a puzzle expert--he just captured $18,000 in New York Post contest. At t.t. he will rank among the first 5 in '38....

...Al Meagher, Minneapolis attorney, invented a ball-throwing device for practice. The machine varies its strokes in serving....

...Sol Schiff will live and work in Rochester, N.Y...managing a men's clothing store....

...In Old Mexico--16th century--a game was played similar to table tennis. When held, these games were elaborate occasions and were attended by the King and his court. The events ended with the losers being beheaded. Today, in a supposedly civilized era, the latest issue from Italy is the ban on handshaking before or after table tennis and lawn tennis matches....[Why? Because] 'intimacy between opponents in sports is an ugly reed which should be uprooted.' Apparently Il Duce regards the handshake as the symbol of intimacy. In this country the handshake in athletic contests is the symbol of good sportsmanship, and good sportsmanship the world over is a traditional part of table tennis and lawn tennis....

...Do you know that Mae Clouther looks very, very well; she has lost pounds and pounds of adipose, and her figure is truly pleasing. She wears white shorts in tournaments, with suntan leg make up. Ooh la la, wait until you see her....Elizabeth Arden ought to pay for an ad in Topics ....

...Bud Blattner's married--and in big-time baseball, St. Louis Cards. His sister, Marjorie, is to wed George Hendry's cousin. We like G.H....

...Dick Miles of the New York TTA has a great forehand--today he could win the National's....

...Marty Reisman, also of New York TTA, is 14 years old and already a terrific player. Within the very near future he should be U.S. Champion...."

Reba was the #2 ranked woman in the U.S. for the 1940-41 season--that was the first year she played in a National's. That year, too, she won the U.S. Open Mixed Doubles with her friend and world-renowned player Laszlo "Laci" Bellak.

In 1947 she was on the U.S. Team traveling in Europe--the World Championships were in Paris that year--and afterwards she became a member of the internationally elite Swaythling Club.

In 1948 and '49, she was the U.S. Women's Singles runner-up--losing first to Peggy McLean in four, then to Leah Neuberger in five. In 1950, playing with a new racket given her by Victor Barna, she finally won the National's, defeating Neuberger, who was then one of the best players in the world, 3-0.

Reba was always a gifted athlete, and thought the top players, both men and women, should be training harder than they did, be dieting carefully, and getting more top professional coaching.

She was a former Middle Atlantic States lawn tennis champion, swam, fenced, was at one time a varsity basketball player, and played volleyball, ice and field hockey.

For a long time she was a very well known exhibition player--doing her comedy-novelty sports act with such greats as Coleman Clark, Laci Bellak, Sandor Glancz, Bobby Riggs, and Joe Louis. In later life, she had her own TV show.

Reba also had an academic-administrative side. She helped Peter Roberts, early USATT Historian, to write articles for the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and even as late as 1979, just a year before her death, she was on the Executive Council of New York's New School. In the '40s' she was President of the NYTTA until she had to give that up to take care of her mother who was dying of cancer.

During all the years she was away from the game, not once, she said, did she receive a notice to renew her USATT membership. It was as if no one in the game remembered or cared about her.

In 1972, however, she began again to write articles for Topics --on Sandor Glancz, Marty Reisman, and a Memoriam to Herwald Lawrence, proprietor of New York's famous Broadway Courts.

I myself always thought of Reba as a real but paradoxical figure--both attacking and very vulnerable. Sometimes she seemed to come straight out of a novel or play I admired, was refreshingly, though often embarrassingly, never quite either the cultured/gentile or the barbarian/bohemian type--she was simultaneously both.

She was a very egocentric, often good-hearted, vigorous undefinable whom it was impossible to predict or ignore. Sensibly always ready to charge, she invariably became for those about her a doer, an urger-on.

A lover of words, of rhetoric, she was pretty, petite, persistent. Not an ox, not a moron, but, strangely, "oxymoronic--as one-of-a-kind outrageous as that word "oxymoronic" which, in friendship, I give to her here.