April 2011

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

George W Bush & John Newcombe

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

For the Bushes, tennis was the family game, like touch football had been for the Kennedys. Olympic players and Davis Cup captains fed the Bush bloodline. George HW Bush was no slouch with a racket and could always find time between diplomatic, CIA and vice-presidential engagements for a sociable swat with a big name player. And so it came about that John Newcombe, winner of 26 Grand Slam tournaments, was spending the 1976 Labor Day holiday at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Together with wife Angie, he was quartered in a large wooden building near the main house. By then, he’d been a friend of the family for several years. Newk was 32, a legend of the court and an Australian icon, a crowd-pleasing larrikin who combined a top-notch forehand volley with an unmistakable pleasure in the game and a prodigious capacity for the amber fluid. According to rumour, his trademark moustache was insured for $13 million. Tiring of the circuit, he had retired from top-level competition to pursue business opportunities. Rolex, Slazenger, a training resort in Texas.

Among the Bushes at Kennebunkport that long weekend was George Junior. The future president was 30, still enjoying what he later described as his “nomadic years” and he wasted no time suggesting a visit to a local bar. Newk was a black-belt beer drinker but young George was pretty sure he could keep up. Which is why, later that evening, a local police officer observed GW driving erratically along Ocean Avenue on the rugged Maine shore, skidding on and off the kerb. “We’d had a couple,” Newk recalled.

Pulled over, Bush registered a blood alcohol level of 0.10%, the legal limit at the time. As well as the Newcombes and a family flack-catcher, his passengers included his 16-year-old sister. He was booked, fined $150 and his Maine licence was suspended for two years. The mandatory alcohol rehab course was magically waived, the incident deep-sixed and a new licence number issued. Daddy was the director of the CIA, after all.

When the story finally came to light, three days before the 2000 presidential vote, Junior had no option but to come clean. “I was drinking beers with John Newcombe,” he told the press. “I’m not proud of that.”

Newk’s been a bit crook lately, surgery and whatnot, and he bends the elbow a little less often these days. His moustache, however, will live forever.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

Cover: April 2011
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