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A Lofty Chair to Honor a Tennis Icon

In celebration of our 30th Anniversary, we've launched the Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair to honor tennis icon Dr. Robert Walter "Whirlwind" Johnson.

On his home clay tennis court in Lynchburg, Virginia (hometown of McKinnon and Harris co-founders Anne and Will), Dr. Johnson trained a legion of young players, including the first two African American grand slam champions, Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, forever transforming the game of tennis. Affectionately known as the Godfather of Black Tennis, Dr. Johnson was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009.

Dr. Whirlwind Johnson with Althea Gibson
Arthur Ashe, Juan Farrow, Dr. Johnson & O.G. Walker
left: Althea Gibson and Dr. Johnson; right: Arthur Ashe, Juan Farrow, Dr. Johnson & O.G. Walker

McKinnon and Harris co-founders Anne and Will Massie share a personal connection to Dr. Johnson through their father, Dr. William McKinnon Massie, who was the personal physician for Dr. Johnson during his illness late in life. At 90 years of age and long retired from medicine, Dr. Massie still recalls his influential patient and fellow physician with tremendous respect and admiration, remembering Dr. Johnson as a “wonderful human being and a kind, unselfish leader.”

In designing the new Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair, McKinnon and Harris reimagined a tennis chair first introduced in 2004. They've long been inspired by Dr. Johnson's legacy and felt this chair could pay homage to his story and raise awareness for the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation.

“Umpires ensure that the game of tennis is played fair and square. Our umpire chair honors the monumental legacy of Dr. Johnson, who instilled sportsmanship and his love for the game in his young players. But what we most admire is that he began, quite literally, to level the playing field by opening the sport to everyone. He's truly an umpire for all time.”

Anne Massie, McKinnon and Harris co-founder

To engineer the correct proportions, Anne and Will took measurements of an umpire chair on US Open practice courts in Flushing Meadows, New York. Their new chair is a refined version with a modernist silhouette and purity of line referencing the lean, strong physique of a tennis player. McKinnon and Harris designed and cast a bespoke bronze nameplate commemorating Dr. Johnson to be placed on each Tennis Umpire Chair. The bronze nameplate features an original design of a laurel wreath, a classical symbol of elite champions, and three tennis balls.

Bronze nameplate for the Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair
Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair finished in Classic White

The Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair, with a lifetime warranty, is an enduring tribute to his game-changing legacy. McKinnon and Harris are grateful to his family and foundation in granting permission for us to name the chair in honor of Dr. Johnson.

Before public release, the first Dr. Johnson Tennis Umpire Chair from the workshop has been made a special gift to his recently restored landmark tennis court located in the Pierce Street Historic District in Lynchburg, Virginia.

McKinnon and Harris wish to raise awareness for the amazing transformational legacy of Dr. Johnson and invite you to join us in becoming a supporter of the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation.

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