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Go Well, Chris Lewis!
Chris' heyday in international tennis took place a little before mine in national television. Little did I know that one day the 1983 Wimbledon finalist would be playing me videos of myself on television recorded by him after he'd called an end to his playing career. I didn't hear from Chris, in fact, till 1993, by which time I'd made my famous "TVNZ is braindead" exit from television and was presenting a free-market radio breakfast session under the auspices of the left-leaning BBC World Service! (How that hilarious and incongruous subterfuge was achieved is a story in itself, that can be read about in Deborah Coddington's biography of me, Perigo! Politically Incorrect! for sale on this site.) Chris had just returned from some years living in Australia, and wanted to make contact with Kiwi Objectivists ... because, lo and behold, he was one himself!
I hadn't known this, but it didn't surprise me to learn it. Whenever he'd been interviewed as a sports star, Chris had been a cut above your stereotypical athlete or any other kind of celebrity. He reeked of individualism. He was serious-minded, high-minded and single-minded to a fault. He was articulate and fierce and proud. He didn't utter the usual sickening bromides about how he owed it all to everyone else. He had, in fact, literally slept on railway benches during his quest for tennis ascendancy. He had, as it turned out, read The Fountainhead as a youngster and been inspired by it for life. With that pedigree, along with his movie-star looks, athletic prowess and razor-sharp mind, he cut a glorious figure.
We got together and just couldn't get enough of each other. Chris, Cindy and I became inseparable as we talked and talked and talked and talked ... Objectivism, Objectivism, Objectivism! None of the children had yet arrived, though Nathan was very much on the way. We've often joked in the years since about the occasion we all went to my favourite restaurant and Nathan, days away from emerging, kept moving the table!
Under the umbrella of Auckland Tennis, Chris set out to groom the Lewises of the future—there had been a decided dearth of them since his Wimbledon clash with McEnroe. Almost from Day One, however, his commitment to the cultivation of individual excellence put him at odds with the adminstrators. For them, the touchy-feely bromides about how everyone's equal and it's the taking part, not the winning, that counts. For Chris, picking the nuggets from the dross and bringing them to their shiningest (there's now such a word, and I dedicate it to Chris) brilliance. The ongoing rear-guard guerilla warfare waged by those who resisted his philosophy and methods drove him crazy ... as it was designed to do. Oftentimes he would unburden himself to me. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that New Zealand Tennis was best left to lie in the politically correct bed it kept insisting on making for itself. That is what will now happen.
In the first heady days of our friendship, I persuaded Chris to record Objectivist/libertarian commentaries for the "Soapbox" segment of my BBC World Service breakfast show. He, the tennis champ, called me "Coach" because of the guidance I gave him in presenting himself on radio. For all his self-assurance, he had a deathly fear of public speaking. Thus I knew what an honour it was when he agreed to be the main speaker at the festivities celebrating thirty issues of The Free Radical. Recording scripted commentaries from the safety of a studio is one thing; delivering a heartfelt tribute to a friend and his unique publication in front of a live audience is quite another. Hyperventilating from nervousness, Chris nonetheless conquered the challenge in a way that moved his audience to tears. For me personally, the most poignant moment came when he said that the adversaries he had taken on in his career—McEnroe, Borg et al—were child's play compared to the adversary I had taken on in launching The Free Radical—the rampant Kiwi culture of mediocrity, conformity and welfarism.
In truth, of course, we had both simply followed our dreams.
In that spirit, I want to say to Chris, from one dream-follower to another: All the best, buddy. I'll see you again soon enough. Total passion for the total height!
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