Sally Green Prouty
December 23, 1922 – September 7, 2014
by Dean Johnson
In December 2008, I paid a visit to Sally & Carlton Prouty at their condo in Ft. Myers, Florida. For a full day, we reminisced, looked at photos and read articles which had been lovingly cared for and meticulously organized by her father, Fred Green. The photos and articles in the album documented Sally’s career from her early teens in the mid-1930s, through the phenomenal ‘40s when she won 5 consecutive Women’s Singles Championships, through the 1950s during which she continued to compete, winning 3 Mixed Double titles with her friend Sol Schiff and 1 with 2-time World Champion Johnny Leach. Sally was also a member of the U.S. team to the Worlds in Utrecht, Holland in 1955. In addition to the World Championships, she competed in the British Open in London, and the German Open in Kiel. She also toured military bases in Germany where the team played exhibition matches for U.S. troops.
Sally won her first national women's title in 1940, then went on to win four more successive titles – in New York, Detroit, St. Louis and, again in 1944 in St. Louis where she defeated legendary women’s champion Leah Thall (later Neuberger) in the final. In the “Classic Era” of table tennis, only Dick Miles has equaled Sally’s astonishing record of winning five consecutive national titles.
Sally’s career, however, was not limited to table tennis. Sally was an accomplished musician – piano and organ player and singer – a graduate of Butler University and the Jordan Conservatory of Music; she was a competitive swimmer, equestrian rider and bowler as well as a tennis player and tennis instructor.
In 2002, at age 80, Sally began a new career. She and Carlton began to perform at local senior centers; Sally played the piano and sang while Carlton (at age 87) danced with the female residents of the centers. (Sadly, Carlton died in January of this year at age 98.)
Before leaving for dinner, Sally and Carlton offered to entertain me with a sample of their senior center routine. While Sally sang in her extraordinarily strong and youthful voice, she accompanied herself on the piano while Carlton danced lightly around the room. It was a wonderful experience hearing and watching the two of them perform.
In addition to Sally’s many other talents and skills, she was a highly creative writer. Here, in her own words is Sally’s life story titled:
Life's Dinner Menu is Served – At A Table For Two
I was born in St. Louis, Missouri on December 23, 1922. My first major challenge in life was to survive a life-threatening surgery to correct an abdominal condition at the age of 6 weeks.
At age 3, I began playing piano by ear and have played it all my life. Starting at age 6, I entertained at family house parties and sing-alongs. At age 4, I started swimming, dancing and elocution classes. As a pre-teen, I swam for the Riviera Club in Indianapolis and trained as a swimmer and diver for the purpose of participating in the Olympic Games. Our team coach was an influential and inspirational man named Bud Sawin who eventually became an Olympic swimming coach. At age 11, a diving accident ended my Olympic dreams. After 1 year I was able to swim but was never again able to compete.
In 1933, at the end of my 11th year, I started to play table tennis. At first, my reason for taking up the game was to improve my coordination and reflexes. My father, Fred, took on the responsibility of helping me to recover.
My desire to greatly improve and to compete in the sport of table tennis became evident to me and to others in a very short time. Having an innate drive for perfection, I was self-driven to excel to the best of my ability. This trait can be both a blessing and a curse. It promotes both endless frustration on the one hand and the heights of exhilaration on the other. Even in my octogenarian years, this urge has never abated.
Après le diner
Which part of a meal is the best? There are some that would say “dessert”. . . and I would certainly agree!
In 2001, while playing the piano in the unbelievably beautiful atrium of our local Health Park Medical Center, a lovely lady came over to me and asked me to call her in the morning. When I called she asked me to provide piano entertainment for the residents of an assisted living home. As a result, another fantastic phase of my life began.
In a very short period of time, a new career began for me – an 80+ year old, almost-to-be great grandmother!
At the time of this writing, Carlton and I have formed yet another of our working partnerships. Like all of those in the past, this one has also been a great success. I play the piano and, because of the extensive repertoire I’ve developed over the years, I’m able to play many of the songs requested by our audiences – thereby bringing back to them the beautiful memories they love to recall. By playing these requests, I also have the assurance that I’m playing the music my audience wants to hear.
As I said, this business is a partnership. And my partner is neither passive nor silent! He is a dancer and the ladies love him! Many of the folks in our audience are in wheel chairs and not all of them are able to get up and dance. Well, my dancer takes good care of that! He takes the ladies by both hands and they sway in time to the music. The rest of the audience claps in time to the music. “Mr. Wonderful” Is what everyone calls Carlton, my partner. People often ask me what his real name happens to be!
Aside from dancing, this great partner carries all of my music and does all of the driving. What a guy at 94 years young!
This “Dessert” phase has turned out to be the most rewarding phase of my public life. To hear my audiences sing, to see them smile and be happy makes each day special.
As a fellow traveler on the senior side of the coin, it is such a great privilege to be involved in this kind of work. If you have a talent, share it with others! It is practically a sin not to share it. Giving of yourself is the most important part of life. It is extremely heartwarming to be able to make other people happy. My goal, even before I was a teen-ager, was to become a United States Table Tennis Champion. I won the title in 1940 at age 17 and continued to defend it for the next four years. Rather than retire after winning the title for five consecutive years, I only relinquished it by being defeated in 1945. I did not easily hand this great honor to anyone else. They had to earn it! When that time came, and the new champion was crowned, she received my heartfelt congratulations for a job well done!
As I reflect on my career in many fields, I recall the tedious hours of practice and youthful impatience, the anxiety of competition and periods of frustration and disappointment. By being able to overcome these obstacles, I reached most of the goals I set for myself. No one gets to the top alone! I’m so thankful to those whose dedication to me helped me to the top. I could not have done it without them!
Although my father Fred is now gone, I still hear the same encouraging voice today that I heard, and heeded, since childhood. That voice of love and support has been there for me through all of the many crisis in my life. And what does dad’s voice tell me? “Sally, it is better to be a ‘has been’ than a ‘never was.’”
Sally Green Prouty
Sally with a custom album created by her father Fred which depicts much of her varied career in pictures, articles and stories. Photo by Dean Johnson