Harry V. Barton
March 3, 2014 by Billy E. Crawford
Harry Vaughn Barton was inducted into the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame in 1994.
Harry Vaughn Barton was born in 1920 at Westover Plantation in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
At age six he started playing tennis on a clay court built by his father on their property. He continued playing and avidly following the sport until retirement in 2010. In 1962 he was elected President of the Baton Rouge Tennis Club which was at that time the only tennis organization in Baton Rouge. He worked closely with Billy McGehee who was head of BREC. Together they hired Ronnie Fenasci as the city’s first full time tennis professional. As president he was directly responsible for the Gulf States Tennis Tournament. The tournament took on a new personality and thrived under his tutelage, stimulating new interest in tennis in the area.
Harry worked very closely with Ronnie and was re-elected to the presidency three times. As tennis boomed in the city and all around the south he began promoting the idea of a private facility on the order of the new clubs in Houston, Jackson and Shreveport. The idea quickly took flight and by 1964 he enlisted the help of H. H.
Manner, Bob Leonard, J. Wesley Leake, and Billy McGehee. Between them, “the fab five of tennis,”a steering committee was formed to develop Harry’s idea.
On Nov 1, 1965 the Bocage Racquet Club opened with eight tennis courts, a swimming pool and three small temporary buildings serving as women and men dressing rooms and a small pro shop, with a starting membership of 333 and dues set at 12.50/month.
Ronnie was hired as its first professional. Three years, two more courts, and a new modern clubhouse later, Harry was elected president. He was immediately asked if Bocage would be interested in hosting The Southern Senior Championships. Agreeing to do so, he dispatched Ronnie and Meredith Bogan to the Annual Southern Meeting to request sanction for the tournament. The bid was rejected with the proviso that Bocage would be given a sanction for a smaller invitational tournament as a test of its ability to host the larger, more glamorous event. Taking the rejection of the tournament as an affront to his dream club, Harry petitioned the board to apply for a USTA sanction for the new tourney, namely the Bocage Senior Invitational. It naturally followed that Harry was its first chairman. The inaugural event was such a huge success that a request immediately followed from the Southern Tennis Association to host its championships the following year. Bocage was so enthusiastic about its Tournament that it voted to keep the Invitational and refused the offer. It was his third and last tennis goal. His first was the growth of tennis in Baton Rouge, the second and biggest of all, the Bocage Racquet Club, and of course his tournament, the Senior Invitational.
As of 2014, Tennis is a thriving sport in Baton Rouge. The Bocage Racquet Club has a membership of 630 full time members enjoying 22 courts, a beautifully renovated clubhouse, an Olympic sized swimming pool, modern fitness center and the newly named Harry V. Barton Senior Invitational. This tournament now enjoys the reputation as one of the best, if not the best, senior tournament in the United States.
Harry is alive and well today, and, at almost 94 years old enjoys visits from his many friends and tennis buddies to talk about his favorite subject, tennis.
Harry was a lawyer, insurance agent, and business broker by trade, and is a recovering alcoholic enjoying his 38th year of sobriety. Harry also served the Baton Rouge community as chairman of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council for East Baton Rouge Parish. Of all his lifetime achievements his last will go down in history because he is now known as the man who “Saved A Life A Day” for twenty years.
As all of his friends would say, “Well Done You Silver-Tongue Devil.”
Special Thanks to Ronnie Fenasci for his contribution to this article.