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Richard Dudley Sears III

Richard Dudley Sears III of Aiken, SC, succumbed to cancer on November 18, 2012.

Born in Boston on February 2, 1927, he was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dudley Sears II (Frederica Fulton Leser) of that city. Named for both his father and well-known grandfather (the first American tennis champion, who retired undefeated with seven consecutive U.S. Championship titles), in youth he was known as “Dickie,” but in his teens protested when his family—especially his mother—resisted elevating his name to Dick. 

After a brief exposure to kindergarten at Mme. Alice Marlor’s French American School in Cambridge, he went to the Dexter School in Brookline and subsequently to St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA. His entry into both schools, and some patience in respect to his academic efforts, were enhanced by the fact that both headmasters were classmates and friends of his father. He entered St. Mark’s at the age of 11 in 1939 and as it was a boarding school he generated a considerable correspondence, which together with letters from his teachers reveals a well-liked boy and tolerably successful school career, punctuated by periods of diffidence and lack of confidence—perhaps engendered by the strong and sometimes volcanic character of his mother, who sometimes quarreled with faculty reports. At the same time in both schools he made a series of friendships which lasted a lifetime. His dedication to his prep school grew over the years, and he became eventually a generous benefactor.

Like many of his classmates, he left school early to answer the call of service in the last year of World War II as a Navy seaman. Ultimately assigned briefly to an oceangoing tug based in New London, CT, he was discharged as a third-class Electronics Technician in July 1946, and subsequently awarded a commission as an ensign in the Reserve.

In the fall of 1946, he entered Harvard, and after a rocky start he buckled down and made himself into a solid average student. He was elected to the Hasty Pudding Club and as a fifth-generation “legacy” to the august Porcellian Club. Although he displayed a regular interest in the gentler sex, Dick remained a happy bachelor until he was 50 years old. He was an original member, in 1948, and ultimately the senior member of the Committee for Boston’s Bachelor Cotillion.

In 1950 he shifted to the law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, won his degree in 1953 and returned to Boston to pass the Massachusetts bar exam. This led to employment at the Boston firm of Putnam, Bell, Santry and Ray, with a specialty in admiralty law.

A new friendship, made at the law school, changed his life. He enjoyed greatly the company of colleague Philip von Stade, newly married, and the von Stades brought Dick into their handsome lifestyle in Long Island and—especially—in Aiken, SC, where the senior von Stades had a special spread. It was horse and fox-hunting country, but Phil and his Boston friend took to the nearby Palmetto golf club, where they entered into the special life of pro-amateur and championship golf. A golfer since the mid-1930s at the tricky old Myopia Hunt and Essex golf courses near Boston, Dick Sears had made himself into a low-handicap golfer. He won his first of several  championships at Myopia in 1949—with two other club tournaments that same year, and the Essex club championship to boot. He was sixth low amateur in the Virginia state open in 1953, and that year at Palmetto made the first of what turned out to be three holes-in-one.  He won the great handicap fourballs at both Boston clubs three times with different partners. In 1954 he joined Boston’s premier course, the historic Country Club in Brookline, where among other achievements he competed for four decades in the club’s competition with the Royal Montreal golf club, said to be the oldest international rivalry in the world.

Dick Sears’ winter game, from college years forward, was the ancient game of court tennis, of which his same-named grandfather was also the first American champion. At an early age he was taken by his grandfather to Boston’s Tennis and Racquet Club to meet Tom Pettit, the local professional who was world champion in the 1890s. He was himself a champion of the Boston club many times, and later served as president of the club. To his joy he discovered there was a court in Aiken. It became, together with several courts in the New York area, part of his winter ritual, and ultimately an opportunity to travel to England to play in the more numerous locations there. Still later in life, he served as vice-president of the United States Court Tennis Association.

The 1950s were a pleasant amalgamation of legal practice in Boston and his beloved sports, with constant trips to Aiken and around the United States as an official shepherding young players in junior golf. He won club championships again in 1955 and 1959.

This pleasant pattern was severely broken in August 1965, when, after a double round of golf in one Essex County club tournament and a cheerful dinner evening with friends, he drove off the road, struck a tree, demolished his car and seriously damaged his face. After intensive care and considerable surgery, including some facial reconstruction, he returned to the world, but his legal career came to an end. There were restorative months at the family’s sprawling Victorian house at the edge of the Atlantic in Prides Crossing, MA, including his beloved swimming and diving. His grandparents had given his parents, and thus the family, as a wedding present, the first saltwater swimming pool in that part of the country, and he loved to dive and swim surprising lengths underwater. Before long he was contending again on fields of sport—there was another court tennis championship at the Tennis and Racquet Club in 1967, and a hole-in-one in 1969. But the pace of his life was obviously changed. His tendency to puns and jokes and frivolity in correspondence was muted, though his lifelong skill in drawing and illustrating his letters and records was undiminished. He moved out of his Boston apartment when his mother died in 1966, and settled with his father, who had inherited the house from the grandparents, helping his aging father run the house.

In 1973, Richard met Mary “Polly” Page, an attractive previously married horse woman. Polly lived near the polo fields at Myopia, though she soon moved to Beverly Farms. She accompanied Dick on one of his court tennis trips to Great Britain, and soon they were inseparable. She became the love of his life. They married in September 1977, when both had passed a half-century. It was not difficult for Polly to persuade Dick to relocate his life to his much loved Aiken, where she could ride: the Palmetto course had been laid out by the architect of the Myopia course, and there was a court tennis court. They settled into a house on York Street and soon added the corner lot to it. Dick plunged into the life of the golf course, ultimately serving as its secretary and treasurer, and played tennis through the winter. The newlyweds took trips, often for sporting reasons, to Long Island and Tuxedo Park. They also went to the Caribbean and to Sea Island, and Dick went on golfing adventures as far as Hawaii. Dick became a trustee of the Aiken Preparatory School, and made innumerable friends in Aiken. He adopted Polly’s love of dogs, especially Bassets, and became active in local animal protection and conservation. In 1987 they bought a large house equipped with a swimming pool, a fish pond, and stables which for a time sheltered a horse. They entertained constantly, and were entertained.

Dick and Polly were lifelong smokers, and whether or not it is to be blamed, Polly contracted cancer. After treatment in Aiken and Boston, she died in 1993. Dick preserved the house just as she had left it. His devotion to her was exceptional, as was his dedication to her children and surviving mother. In 2010, after fighting off glaucoma and melanoma, he was struck with cancer of the mouth, which metastasized through seven hospitalizations.

He leaves Molly’s three children, Ms. (Dr.) Elizabeth Page Carey (Boden—Elizabeth P. Carey), Francis J. Carey III, and Miss Page Eyre Kelleher; his brother John W. Sears and sister Mrs. Anne Sears Wilson (Anne Ware Sears); four step-grandchildren; five nieces and nephews; and six great-nieces and great-nephews.

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