KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — W.G. “Dub” Currie, the man most instrumental in starting the modern era of Tennessee tennis during the late 1940s, died Wednesday in Humboldt, Tenn., at the age of 86.
During Currie’s freshman year of 1946-47, he won UT’s intramural tennis championship and proceeded to ask athletics director and head football coach Gen. Robert R. Neyland to reform a varsity tennis squad. The team had been disbanded in 1943 because of World War II.
Neyland agreed to the request as long as Currie could find players and a coach. Currie recruited members for the team and persuaded Jack Rogers from Rice to be head coach.
Currie lettered for the Vols three seasons, from 1948-50. It was during his last two years that he became friends with teammate Tommy Bartlett, who later served as Vols head coach from 1963-66.
“I first met Dub in 1947 when I was in the Marine Corps and was coaching a Marine tennis team,” Bartlett said. “I flew the guys to Knoxville and that’s when I met him because he was handling the team and trying to get it back together again from the war.
“And that’s when we became lifetime friends.”
Bartlett joined Currie at UT in the fall of 1948, but couldn’t play that first season because freshmen were ineligible. The next year, the duo played all season together and won the SEC No. 3 doubles championship. The senior-sophomore combination did not lose a game in the final.
Currie was team captain and played No. 1 singles, losing just one match in three seasons.
Also on the squad in 1950 were Bill Davis, Gavin Gentry, Nathan Smith and John Cullum, who went on to an award-winning acting career after claiming his own SEC doubles crown with Davis in 1951.
But it was Currie and Bartlett who became the ultimate playing partners.
“He and I went out to (W.D.) Buchanan’s house – he was our tennis coach – and he had a private court,” Bartlett said. “Dub and I would play every day. We both played kind of the same games. I was more of a base-liner and so was he. We might play four hours and never get through because we both could run and we both could hit it back.
“And Dub was ambidextrous, which means he didn’t have a backhand. If it came to the right, he hit it right-handed; if it went left, he hit it left-handed.”
The Tennessee Tennis Hall of Fame added both Currie and Bartlett to its second class of inductees in 2009. The nine members now residing in UT’s hall of honor are Paul Annacone, Mike DePalmer Sr., Andy Kohlberg, Tommy Mozur, Lenny Schloss, Chris Woodruff and Davis, in addition to Currie and Bartlett.
“Everybody who’s ever been associated with Tennessee tennis is eternally grateful to Mr. Currie for resurrecting the program,” UT head coach Sam Winterbotham said. “I had the opportunity to meet with him at our hall of fame induction and he was just a wonderful man. All of us here send our condolences.”
Born and raised in Jackson, Winburn G. Currie Jr. graduated from Jackson High School and then entered the Army Air Force. He served nearly three years before enrolling at UT, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity, Delta Nu Alpha transportation fraternity, vice-president of the senior class and secretary/treasurer of the Letterman’s Club.
Upon graduation from UT, Currie’s first job was in the traffic department of Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad. He spent 14 years with GM&O before returning to Jackson to start a home building business. Currie served on the board of directors of the local chamber of commerce, Rotary Club and Jackson Country Club, and was president of the Homebuilders Association several times.
Bartlett said his friend made it easy to keep in touch even though they lived in different parts of the state. Currie was inducted into the Jackson-Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 1990, but it was Currie who kept pushing the honors for his longtime friend and playing partner.
“With Dub, all these years, he couldn’t stop promoting me for something,” said Bartlett, who now lives in Chattanooga. “He wouldn’t stop until they put me in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”