Fred Farrell ’71
“Tennis Court Guy” to the Rich and Famous
When we caught up with Fred Farrell ’71, he had recently returned from the Kennebunkport home of George H. W. Bush, and was preparing for a trip to the White House. Fred got his humble beginnings seal-coating driveways—a business he started as a teen at the encouragement of his father. That work launched a career he never could have imagined: He became the “tennis court guy” for the rich and famous, eventually building courts for Nelson Rockefeller, Stephen King, and the Bush family. His craftsmanship at the White House spans four presidents. And, his expertise has taken him all over the world—he even built courts for U.S. personnel in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As you can imagine, Fred has amassed a treasure trove of work-related adventure stories. Here are a few:
I was working on courts in Maine. This was the 1980s. On a Sunday night, a guy calls me, “How fast can you build a tennis court?” I tell him about three months. He said, “How about for the vice president?” I said, “The vice president of what?” He said, “Of the United States. George Bush.” I said, “About a month, month and a half.” So I go down to Kennebunkport.
Some years later, the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association decided they would update the White House court. Bush was president by then. So I go down to D.C. with a bunch of guys, business owners from all over the country, and we show up at the White House, and of course I’m the youngest guy there. Gary Walters, who was the head White House usher, invited us to play horseshoes. The horseshoe pit was brand-new; remember Bush had it put in right outside the Oval Office. So here we are, playing horseshoes at the White House, when out comes Bush with about a dozen people. And Gary Walters … he’s truly one of the sharpest human beings I’ve ever met … he said, “Mr. President, these are the tennis court guys. And that’s Fred Farrell from Maine.”
Bush comes down the steps with his hand extended, saying, “I haven’t seen you in a while and this is fantastic. You’re actually here to work on my tennis court.” And I’m inwardly going, Oh, my god. There I am, a little guy from Gray, Maine, welcomed to the White House by the president of the United States.
I was there the day Tom Brokaw did “A Day in the Life of the White House.” I was at the White House the day after the plane crashed on the south lawn. I was there the day President Bush had his heart problem and was rushed to the hospital.
After a couple of years patching the White House court, it was time to install a new court on top of the existing one, which actually leads me to another story.
So we’re working on this fancy urethane surface. It’s about eight o’clock at night and it’s getting dark, and a dozen Secret Service agents are standing there holding flashlights while we’re cleaning up stuff. And all of a sudden the gate opens and this dog squirts through and slides across the surface, which is still setting. One of the young guys from my company yells, “Somebody get this blanking dog outta here!” Next thing we hear is a booming voice, “Ranger! Come!” President Bush comes over and he’s falling all over himself, apologizing, asking, “Can this be fixed?” And this mortified young kid says, “Yes, Mr. President. I’ll fix it myself.”
The next morning at 7:30 we’re at the court getting ready to work. Mrs. Bush comes down and she’s walking Millie, and she looks over and says, “Hi Fred! You guys are here early. You need anything?” I say, “No, I think we’re all set.” She says, “Well if you do need anything, let me know. I’ll send Ranger down.”
I can’t tell you how many of the White House staff came down to see us, giggling; the story went straight through the building overnight.
In 1999, Farrell sold the construction business he founded as a Norwich student, Maine Tennis and Track, to focus on consulting. Today, the Bush family is still a client of Farrell Consulting & Sport Surfacing, and once a year he visits the Bush estate to ensure all is in good order with the court.