My friend Milton Gayle, who has died of cancer aged 68, was a much-loved tennis coach in south London.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, as a young teenager he had been unable to play the game in any formal sense, and the closest he got to a proper court was as a ballboy in a local “whites only” tennis club. But he was given a Fred Perry tennis racket by a visiting player and his passion for the game was ignited. When he came to London aged 15 in 1967, joining his parents, brothers and sisters, further racial and financial barriers confined him to playing tennis against a wall for the next 10 years.
At the age of 25, however, he decided to go into coaching, and attained the highest Lawn Tennis Association qualification. Although he could have played to a high standard at that age, he set his sights on teaching others “because I didn’t want another child from my community to go through what I went through”.
Thereafter Milton did everything he could to bring tennis to his community in Southwark, starting coaching sessions in the 1970s at Burgess Park in Camberwell with rundown facilities, often with up to 30 youngsters on a single court. I got to know him when he taught my son for a few years, and I found him to be a beautiful and inspiring man.
His ceaseless efforts over many years were rewarded in 2004 when the local council funded the redevelopment of the Southwark City Tennis Club in Burgess Park, which has provided a base for children from underprivileged backgrounds to pursue tennis competitively – with some players gaining American university tennis scholarships and others playing at national and international level.
For his work, Milton was recognised as Most Deserving Unsung Tennis Hero at the ATP World Tour Finals event at the O2 Arena in 2012, and was awarded the freedom of Camberwell in 2013. Despite the official recognition, he remained extremely disparaging of the LTA’s lack of support for tennis in non-traditional areas. His personality and his great energy will be missed by so many, but he leaves behind an incredible legacy.
He is survived by his daughters, Becky, Debbie and Mia, and three granddaughters.