Capobianco Field, Roosevelt Island, named for Guyanese tennis legend

From left, Table Tennis player, and retired United Nations staffer, Mark Anthony with family members, Sean Braithwaite, Barbara Christiani, Tracy Christiani, Sharon Braithwaite, and George Braithwaite Jr. at one of the tennis tables dedicated to George H. Braithwaite’s legacy, positioned in a part of Capobianco Field, Roosevelt Island.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

George Hugh Braithwaite, was the first Guyanese sports personality to become world-renowned, winning more than 70 table tennis titles in the United States and overseas, including a run that can only be described as magical during which for 27 straight years he won at least one US open or closed title, said retired Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United States, Ambassador Rudolph M. Ten-Pow.

Ten-Pow, former president of the UN Tennis Club, who joined family, friends and colleagues, on Oct. 23, to remember Braithwaite and dedicate a section of Capobianco Field, Roosevelt Island where concrete Table Tennis tables are positioned, recalled along the way Braithwaite was crowned the Caribbean Men’s Singles Champion, and won the Doubles and Mixed Doubles championship, and in 1989 was inducted into the US Table Tennis Hall of Fame.

The former diplomat praised the extraordinarily talented sportsman, who was also a track star, saying, “This was a man who played for Prime Minister Chou-in-Lai and Chairman Mao-Tse Tung of the People’s Republic of China and President Richard Nixon, as part of the so-called ping pong diplomacy in 1971 that helped put an end to the international isolation of China, thereby changing the course of history.”

“George was an outstanding table tennis player, but we’re also honoring his memory here today because he was an outstanding human being. I think that’s the lesson that George would want us to take away from his life. Work hard to develop your talent but then be generous in sharing that talent with others,” said Ten-Pow.

Celebrated with poem “Dance to the Chief,” a choreography by Alan Good, and the song, “My Way” by Michale Henry, Braithwaite who lived on Roosevelt Island for many years was called a consistent player, who made table tennis a part of his life.

Family friend Luz Maria Brissett, who competed with the genius, said Braithwaite, who took up the sport later in life was always in great physical shape, meticulous, and the most dedicated player in US history, winning events in his 50s, and artfully performed his beautiful game throughout the country.

Braithwaite, who graced the cover of Ebony, Times Magazine, and was featured in numerous publications, and who gave television interviews, even becoming a sportswear model, and ballroom dancer, also started a coaching club.

“He was the best player in China Town, and the most decorated in US history,” said Brissett, adding that, the old tennis racket he found in the UN, was the beginning of a long and phenomenal career, after he began playing the sport in Guyana.

Recently retired, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the United Nations, Ambassador, Rudolph M. Ten-Pow, Gisel a friend of the Chief, Mark Anthony, Thomas Hu and fan, after a commemoration and dedication of tennis tables, in a part of Capobianco Field, Roosevelt Island, in honor of world-renowned champion, Guyanese-born, George H. Braithwaite.

Thomas Hu, chief executive officer of American Youth Table Tennis Organization and host, who worked with a team to bring the commemoration and dedication of a section of the field to fruition, said he met Braithwaite, fondly referred to as “The Chief,” when he was a teenager.

“I met the Chief in 1987, while helping to run the Greater Table Tennis league. My mentor introduced him to me, when I was a beginner, and he was an elite player, so I was lucky to have been able to play with the chief.”

“We practiced together and became good friends. I was away in Hong Kong, and when I came back in 2015, and reconnected, we practiced once a week. The Chief was not only a tennis player he also shared a lot of wisdom with me. He was one of the wisest men that I had ever met. He had a great impact to me.”

“I am honored to have been a part of this commemoration. The Chief deserves more than what we have done for him. He sacrificed his whole life for table tennis, like me growing up. There is no one in this country like him. I am honored, said Hu.

Track and field enthusiast, Mark Anthony, who worked at the UN with Braithwaite from 1978, was honored to meet Braithwaite, described as a humanitarian, someone who arrived at tournaments three hours ahead, to greet fans and sign autographs.

He said he admired the champion from afar, intimidated by his brilliance, but eventually got to know the tennis phenom, who also shared track and sprinting techniques.

“George was a phenomenal player and leader. He helped to coordinate the UN games in parts of the world, and the inter-agency games in New York. I respected and wished to be like him when I grew up, a friend, a colleague and a gentleman,” said Anthony.

The afternoon of tributes was punctuated with high praise for “The Chief” as Michael Reff said in his chorus. “To the Chief who has demonstrated that sports and character go hand in hand, and as a human he is the highest rated, and ratings are something ‘ping pongers’ understood.”

Other testimonials, came from Andrew Gorsira and Friends, and honorary guests Matilda Ekholm, Victor Krupinski, and Willy Leparula.

George Hugh Braithwaite died on Oct. 23, 2020. He was 86.