The WTA family is saddened by the passing of Merrett R. Stierheim, who served as the organization’s CEO from 1986 to 1990. He passed away on July 7 at the age of 90.

A keen tennis player, Stierheim was recruited to the WTA when it was headquartered in Miami -- a city he fell in love with as a young Air Force navigator in the 1950s, and where he would ultimately spend most of his work life as a transformative and respected public administrator.

The late eighties were an exciting time for women’s tennis on and off the court. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were still in contention for major titles, even as they passed the torch to a new generation of champions including Stefanie Graf, Gabriela Sabatini and Monica Seles.

At the same time, the Australian Open was re-energized by its move to Melbourne Park. The reinstatement of tennis to the Olympics brought a new dimension, and Stierheim fostered a tier-based tournament calendar designed to bring cohesion across markets and commercial stability to the tour itself.

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“Merrett Stierheim’s tenure as CEO can be reflected as one of the most impactful periods for the WTA,” said Steve Simon, the body’s current chairman and CEO.

“Through his leadership and vision, women’s professional tennis became more global in outlook, player compensation levels doubled from existing levels, the player’s pension plan was established, and he played an instrumental role in moving what is now known as the Miami Open to Key Biscayne in 1987. Merrett and his dedication to WTA tennis will certainly be missed.”

Former World No.1 Evert, who was president of the WTA Players’ Association throughout Stierheim’s time in charge, paid tribute to his ability to juggle the big picture with personal relationships.

“Merrett was so passionate about women’s tennis and the potential of our platform in society,” she said. “He recognized the value we brought to the game and was a true believer in equal pay. As a leader, he thought it important to always include us, as athletes, in the big decisions concerning the growth of the sport. Our thoughts are with his family.”

After gaining a degree in commerce and finance from Bucknell University, Stierheim launched his career in 1959 with an internship at Miami City Hall, undertaken as part of a master’s program in government administration through the prestigious Wharton School. He duly rose through the ranks, twice serving as county manager for the Miami-Dade area. Other key posts over a six-decade run included Miami city manager and responsibility for both the county’s school system and its tourist bureau.

Indeed, a lifetime of civic mindedness saw Stierheim leave his mark on numerous public works projects, from major transport infrastructure to the city’s zoo. Among many accolades, he received the National Public Service Award, one of the highest awards in public administration. Contemporaries remember his venerable skills as a mediator and negotiator, and commitment to fair play.

“Merrett was a true gentleman with outstanding integrity and that was evident in his many contributions to our sport,” said International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Peachy Kellmeyer, who has worked with every WTA chief since 1973. “For all those fortunate to serve with him, it was a privilege, and for me, it became a lifetime friendship.”

Along with his wife, Judy Cannon Stierheim, Stierheim is survived by four daughters, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.