My dad, Graydon passed away March 24th, age 97. He will be greatly missed by his wife of 67+ years, Virginia, and my brother Chuck Nichols and his wife Susie, sister Eileen Nichols Christin and husband Mark, and me. He had six grandchildren and two great grandchildren, thirteen surviving nieces and nephews and countless great nieces and nephews (including his namesake, Graydon Gunderson).
Family came first for my dad. He was present for every high school and college graduation for his children and grandchildren and every wedding. He was born in Clovis, CA in 1925, the 8th of nine Nichols children. He was always there for my mom, who met him on a blind date in 1954. Six months later they were married. But that wasn’t the first time she saw a picture of Graydon…that would be when she was a senior in high school (1943) and there was a photo of Graydon and his brothers Charlie and Roy on the front page of the Fresno Bee, (they were serving in the Army during World War II). Some of fondest memories are of fun family reunions with my cousins, aunts and uncles and always, there was tennis involved.
Graydon served in the army during World War II before finishing his engineering degree at UC Berkeley. (My mom was a Stanford grad, but he didn’t hold that against her.) He worked around the world on engineering projects till the mid 1950s, when returned to the Central Valley of California to take a job in Kings County. He met my mom soon after. Nichols Farms was born, incorporated a few years later in 1961, and expanded by Graydon. Nichols Farms produced row crops..sugar beets, alfalfa, cotton, corn, wheat, barley until 1981 when Graydon (Nic) was one of the first farmers in the Central Valley to plant almonds. Two years later he planted Nichols Farms’ first pistachios. My brother Chuck expanded the business and with his sons carries on the family farming and pistachio processing at Nichols Farms.
Graydon was also the General Partner of Victoria Island Farms in the San Joaquin Delta. He took over the running of the farm in 1974, when he began planting asparagus, then his beloved blueberries and tomatoes and in 2015 almond trees (at age 90). Today my sister Eileen Christin and her sons carry on the farming tradition at Victoria Island Farms.
Graydon got his start in tennis when his oldest sister, Lucile, introduced her seven siblings to the game. They lined a pasture with ashes from the fireplace and somehow found a net (according to my sister it was twine topped with burlap bags). He said that the uneven surface and bad bounces explained why he had short strokes and preferred grass. (I overheard him once, when playing on red clay in Turkey comment that he wished he could turn the courts green. He won his ITF World singles championship on grass, his favorite surface.) Graydon was a master tactician and instinctively knew how to practice efficiently (lots of serves and returns and very little emphasis on endless cross court drills!) He could suss out opponents in warmup in about 3 minutes. Playing father/daughter with him was amazing. Dad and his siblings then passed along a love of the game to their children and when we had our annual family reunions, tennis was a centerpiece of the afternoon recreation.
Graydon was inducted into the NorCal Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009. He won 64 gold balls from ages 71 to 91, including ten father/daughter titles. He won his first gold ball less than four months after having rotator cuff surgery on his left (dominant) shoulder…and was cleared to hit about two days before the tournament began. With good friend Tony Franco he won two doubles gold slams (Indoor, Hard, Grass and Clay titles in the same year) in the 90s age division. (Tony didn’t even play doubles in senior tournaments till Dad convinced him to play with him, and the two rarely lost as a team.) Graydon was ranked #1 in the world in his 80s, won five individual ITF World Championships and was a member of 10 USA Senior Davis Cup teams. Tennis took him to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and various venues in Europe and the USA.
Click here to view a video filmed before he played father/daughter with my sister Eileen (they won!) from the Palm Springs Desert Sun website.
Graydon’s mind remained sharp and he was engaged in farming and interested in his family’s doings till his death. He had the respect of his peers in the farming and tennis communities. Tad Yukawa, a friend 20 years his junior, commented that Graydon was the nicest man he’d ever met…and that they won the last match they played. Above all he was a kind and thoughtful man. He always thanked me for calling him…every time, was kind to his friends, caregivers, doctors and nurses, at home, on the court and in the hospital. He said more than once that his greatest accomplishment was his family, of whom he was so very proud. He will be missed dearly by his family and by the farming and tennis communities…and of course by me. We all loved him so much.
If you would like to make a donation in honor of Graydon, please send donation to:
Eisenhower Health Foundation Department
3900 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
Please note: In memory of Graydon Nichols