To be an only son, and to have five sisters older than yourself, is a rare and rigorous challenge. It happened to young John Palfrey of Brookline, Mass., and with an extra twist as well: his sisters are Polly, Joanna, Lee, Mianne and Sarah; and when he was a boy all five of them could beat him at tennis.
John set to work, though, and eventually got big enough and good enough to beat them all, except possibly Sarah. Sarah Palfrey was an international tennis star with a string of championships to her credit, and because of the difference in their ages she and her brother never met when both were in top form.
Having got off to an early competitive start, John kept going. In boarding school he pitched baseball, and at Harvard he played varsity tennis. As a lawyer, he spent four years in the legal department of the Atomic Energy Commission and then became a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, specializing in the legal problems connected with atomic energy. Through it all he remained a tennis player—a left-handed one—and also took up golf.
"No one else at the Institute for Advanced Studies was interested in either golf or tennis," said Palfrey the other day. "So I played with Princeton students or with Clochette, my wife. She and I can be a very irritating mixed doubles team. She gets the ball back and I make trouble at the net."
Palfrey has been a full professor of law at Columbia University since 1956, and last month he became dean of Columbia College. At 39, he could easily pass for a graduate student.
Does he credit his achievements to the early hardship of having five big sisters who could blast him off the tennis court? "Not at all," said the dean the other day, smiling. "After all, by the time I was 18 I could beat them all, except possibly Sarah. She and I argued for years about whether I at my best could beat her at hers, but nowadays we are so relaxed we just play doubles and don't argue.
"There is one thing, though. Every one of my sisters won at least one national title in tennis, and I never did. Maybe it was only indoor doubles for girls 15 and under, but every one of them has her championship. I figure the only chance I have left to win my national title is to team up with someone really good, like Bill Talbert, when we are 45—and win the Veterans' Doubles."
Beating the Heat
Sometimes it's just too hot to lift a finger and sometimes that goes double in Baltimore. But it doesn't go at all for Baltimore football fans. One night last week the Baltimore Colts put on an intrasquad game at Memorial Stadium for the benefit of police-sponsored boys' clubs. Paid attendance (at $1 a head on a hot August night) was 48,309.