Wilmat Tennyson ushered in a new era of Canadian tennis when he was President of Rothmans in 1970. He started the sponsorship of The Rothmans Canadian Open Championships at the Cricket Club. Later matches were played at The Toronto Lawn Tennis Club. Don Brown, Tennyson’s successor said at the retirement party for Jane Wynne, long- time Tournament Director of Tennis Canada – “Helen loved tennis, and Wilmat loved Helen”!!!
In 1978 Paul Pare took over The Canadian Open sponsorship from Rothmans, and the name changed to Players International. Then it became the du Maurier Open until 1986 and then the Rogers A T & T Cup. Pare’s involved himself directly in all negotiations concerning tennis because he loved the sport. When he retired in the mid 1980’s Purdy Crawford took over as CEO of Imasco and Tennyson made it his duty to continue to support the tennis event. Tennyson was appointed President of Imperial Tobacco in 1985 and carried on Pare’s example until he, too, retired in 1991.
Tennis Canada entered into an arrangement with Mark McCormack’s IMG, a powerhouse in sports, representing many top golf and tennis players and events. This basically guaranteed good entry and increased the prestige of the tournament. Another condition of Imperial sponsorship involved alternating the tournament between Toronto and Montreal. Tennis Canada and Imperial were successful in convincing the men’s Pro Council that this was a good idea although it created a precedent. Shortly thereafter, the WTA wanted a separate women’s event so Tennis Canada began the tradition of alternating the men’s and women’s events between the two cities, running consecutively.
After 1970, Tennyson had his own consulting company for over a year. He was then President of Canadian Breweries in Canada, the U.S.A and Ireland. Before joining Imperial, he worked for a time with Provigo Foods, a subsidiary of Imasco.
Other sponsorships Tennyson spear-headed were Spruce Meadows International Horse Show in Calgary. It has been named the number 2 show jumping event in the world, after Aachen in Germany. Also sponsored were The Atlantic Winter Fair in Halifax, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet touring company, and Jazz festivals in Vancouver, Toronto, Halifax and Montreal. Under Tennyson’s instruction, there was a capital improvement grant toward renovation and/or construction of buildings for theatres and art galleries all over the country from Vancouver to Halifax. As an example, the Ice House at Harbourfront was reconstructed to become the du Maurier Theatre Center and an art gallery space which still remain as first-class cultural space.
Tennyson was considered expert in interpreting how the company sponsorship should be conducted. Both he and his wife, Helen, were well regarded by their employees, the people they worked with at the tournaments, and the athletes.
Tennyson was born in South Africa and moved all over the world before settling in Canada. As a young man, he worked for the Rembrandt Group in London England, and then the South African Embassy in Lisbon and Washington, D.C. before going to Rock City Tobacco in Quebec and then Rothmans.
Tennyson’s aim was to provide the best hospitality to both the players and the spectators. He encouraged the golfers to bring their families to the tournaments, and provided excellent daycare for the children of the LPGA golfers. He had a moving van equipped with the best exercise equipment available for the players. The big name players wanted to come back year after year as they were treated so well by both Tennyson and his wife, Helen.
“Mr. Tennyson deserves a lot of credit for the support he gave Canadian players over the years,” said former world No. 1 Canadian doubles star, Grant Connell.