John McEnroe Senior recalls a stellar life as father to top tennis athlete John


A bright boy who was doing tax returns for his parents when he was 12 years old, McEnroe enrolled in The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to study economics.  After finishing college he started military service and eventually wound up in Wiesbaden, West Germany.

Before he left, though, a young nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, Kay Tresham, caught his eye.  “We would go to a bar across from the hospital because it was a good place to meet student nurses,” McEnroe recalled.

At one outing he met Kay, who happened to be wearing another young man’s pin at the time which meant they were going steady.
“I sat in a booth with her and her guy and we were talking.  She had a curfew – all the nurses had a curfew – so she said she had to leave.  But before she goes she leans in to me and says, ‘Stay here. I’ll be back,’” McEnroe recalls with a smile.

“So she waits a half hour, then goes upstairs to the roof of where she was staying and crosses over onto the next building. Then she got the fire escape down eight floors and came back to the bar to see me. And it all happened from there.”

McEnroe relocated to the U.S. Air Force base in West Germany, and when Kay had a two-week break she planned a visit.  The two weeks, though, turned into more than four years.  John and Kay decided to marry, and held their ceremony on the base without any family present.

They returned to New York with not only themselves but their first child, John Patrick McEnroe Junior, who was eight months old at the time.

“I had never met her parents, and Kay had only met my mother,” McEnroe recalls.  But all’s well that ends well, and the McEnroes have been happily married for 57 years.

After settling his young family in New York, McEnroe enrolled in Fordham Law School at night.  Days were spent working at two advertising agencies, first Kenyon & Eckhardt, then J. Walter Thompson.  After completing law school McEnroe was offered a job that paid less than his salary at the ad agency -- $7,800 per year as opposed to $10,000 -- but he decided to take the plunge.

“I didn’t go to law school for all that time just to stay at what I was doing,” he said.

McEnroe spent four years at the law firm of Kelley Drye, and moved to Paul Weiss, one of the most prominent firms in the world, after leading an effort to increase pay for Kelley Drye associates.

The McEnroes added two sons to the family – Patrick, who also played pro tennis, and Mark, an attorney – and moved to a home in Douglaston, Queens, where John McEnroe’s budding talent on the tennis court was first nurtured.

The McEnroe children were all athletic and played sports at the Douglaston Club.  John zeroed in on tennis.

“He was good right away,” McEnroe recalls. “He just had it. Something in his genes. And he loved it. I was 31 and John was eight when he first started to play at the club. I beat him regularly – but only until he turned 10 and then he beat me.”

John was also an earnest student who earned top grades, so much so that a teacher recommended that he enroll in a more advanced school that would match his intellect. All the McEnroe boys went to Buckley Country Day School on Long Island, followed by the Trinity School in Manhattan and then Stanford University, where John stayed for a year.  His freshman year in 1977-’78 saw him win the NCAA singles title, and then he turned pro.

The rest, as they say, is tennis history.
McENROE traveled the world winning tennis tournaments, thrilling fans and causing more than his fair share of controversy with eruptions at officials when calls didn’t go his way.  The outbursts are as much a part of McEnroe’s lore as all the titles he won, but McEnroe Senior says his son wouldn’t have been as successful if he had to bottle his emotions.

“It was terrific, a very exciting time,” McEnroe says of the late 1970s/1980s when his son ruled the courts. 

“Of course he was a little controversial. Like when he said, ‘You cannot be serious,’ to a ref at Wimbledon.  That’s the title of his [2002] autobiography.

“I didn’t like all the negative attention. How could I like it? But on the other hand, I thought if John wasn’t that way he wouldn’t be a winner. He had to let it out.”

While his son traveled the world, McEnroe Senior maintained a thriving practice as a partner at Paul, Weiss in corporate law.  He also represented John and other tennis professionals with their off-court endeavors.

John’s storied career is full of epic matches that easily stand the test of time.  His proud father says the best was against the icy Swede Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final, which ended in a five-set win for defending champ Borg after McEnroe won a stirring fourth set tiebreak, 18-16.