By Dan Guttenplan
---- — A West Newbury woman who has alleged she was abused by former South African tennis star Bob Hewitt felt vindicated yesterday upon hearing the news that the former doubles champion was suspended from the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
West Newbury resident Heather Crowe Conner contributed to the Hall of Fame’s investigation of Hewitt in June, spending two days being interviewed by Michael Connelly, a Boston-based lawyer hired by the Hall of Fame’s executive committee. Conner was one of at least nine women who claimed Hewitt sexually abused, harassed or raped them while he was a coach during the 1970s through the 1990s.
Hall of Fame CEO Mark Stenning told The Associated Press that the Hall’s executive committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to suspend Hewitt indefinitely after an outside investigation deemed credible the allegations of multiple women who said they were abused by Hewitt while he was coaching them decades ago.
“My first reaction was shock,” Conner wrote in an email last night.
“Honestly, I never expected the Hall to do anything. It has taken so long for this to happen, and it’s been a lifetime for me also. I don’t really know what to feel actually.”
Stenning said Hewitt’s plaque in the enshrinement hall and other references to him at the Hall, and on the Hall’s website, were removed yesterday. The website had called him an “enduringly elegant player” and a “master of the doubles craft.”
“His legacy ceases to exist in the Hall of Fame,” Stenning said.
The Australian-born Hewitt won several Grand Slam events during his career in the 1960s and 1970s and was inducted into the Hall in 1992.
No one had ever been suspended or expelled from the Hall before yesterday. Stenning said the committee did not consider expulsion because it was believed that would require a criminal conviction.
“It never was my goal to get him removed from the Hall,” Conner wrote, “but I needed to tell my story to relieve the pressure and stress I was feeling, and to be able to move on with my life.”
Conner, a former member of the Pentucket Regional School Committee, went public with her story in March of 2011 at a committee meeting.
Conner revealed she had been molested and raped by her tennis coach for 15 years as a teen and young woman growing up in Topsfield. She first met the 36-year-old married man in 1975 when he was hired as the traveling tennis pro at a Danvers club.
Contact information for Hewitt, who lives in South Africa, could not immediately be found. The Weekend Post newspaper in South Africa quoted him last year as saying, “I only want to apologize if I offended anyone in any way.”