Judy Kay-Wolff


Reading and enjoying Philip Alder’s recent article on Dwight D. Eisenhower recalled to me tender memories of Ike’s good friend and colleague — another military bridge devotee, General Alfred M. Gruenther.    History will revere Al Gruenther as the youngest U. S. Four-Star General in U. S. annals, Chief of Staff of the Third Army, Fifth Army and Fifteenth Army Group, principal American planner of the allied invasions in North Africa in 1942 and Italy in 1943, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and Commander in Chief of the U. S. European Command in 1953.   His military performance and brilliant accomplishments were endless.  Gruenther also was President of The American Red Cross from 1957-1964. He made it to the cover of Life Magazine when he retired from the service in 1956 and appeared on the popular TV show What’s My Line the following year.

However, he sported another cap to the bridge gentry.  Al Gruenther was a respected authority on Duplicate Contract Bridge and the outstanding Director of bridge tournaments in America in the Thirties.   He also had the distinction of serving as Chief Referee in the 1931-32 Culbertson-Lenz Match.  Those days were long before my time as I met General Gruenther for the first time in the early-sixties.   He had taken a shine to Norman and kept abreast of the major tournaments.   It became a ritual to find an enthusiastic congratulatory note awaiting our return if Norman had won another NABC event.   The General was always in the salute mode — commending outstanding bridge achievements — as the game held a special place in his heart.

My favorite communication (for selfishly personal reasons), dated August 20, 1967 was addressed to yours truly and is proudly enshrined in my own scrapbook captioned Miracle in Montreal.   Unbeknownst to me, after my triumph with Edgar, Norman (though not fully recuperated from the shock) slipped away to his nearby office on consecutive evenings after our return to Philadelphia and would arrive back at our center city apartment long after the children and I had retired.  In longhand, he had been requesting that congratulatory notes be sent to his wife (moi) for her startling victory in the Mixed Pairs with a first-time partner.  He used his ML office as the return address and until the entire production was presented to me in scrapbook form, I had no clue.   The recipients of his plea were famous personalities from both the ‘real’ and bridge worlds.  He solicited responses from the Premier of Quebec, the Mayor of Montreal (fittingly as it was the scene of the crime) and our own Philadelphia Mayor, Pennsylvania Senators and Representatives — as well as Michigan Governor George Romney, California Senator George Murphy, presidential timber Richard M. Nixon, California Governor Ronald Reagan, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, New York Mayor John V. Lindsay, Jacqueline Kennedy, et al. plus dozens of his celebrated bridge playing contemporaries.   The gracious replies were unbelievable.

Though I still treasure each and every individual rendering inspired by Norman’s tireless efforts, I want to share two special titillating excerpts from General Gruenther’s message sent from his residence in Washington, D. C.:   It began,  “Dear Judy — That fellow, Norman Kay, has been in the limelight long enough.”  He concluded with, “This, I am confident, is the first of many national championships.  Now if we can only arrange to have you on the North American Team it will be taps for the Italians…..”

Not only was he warm and personable — but his adorable sense of humor tickled my fancy.   Sharing even a fleeting moment or encounter with a man of such profound stature who so strongly impacted the destiny of our nation and the entire world — gave me pause.  Reflections like these serve as humbling reminders of how charmed a life I have been privileged to enjoy — all stemming from our wonderful game.


KenJanuary 21st, 2009 at 1:36 am

Your blog made me pause for thought – as you have written in previous blogs many celebrities of days gone by have shared our love of bridge…I challenge any of your readers to come up with a name of new “A lister” (be it politician, actor, author or any other notable name) who spends their spare time at the bridge table. I’m sure they are out there – I just can’t think of one name off the top of my head .

Mark LombardJanuary 30th, 2009 at 3:56 am

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is purportedly a Life Master.

Judy, “leading a charmed life” is certainly an understatement. W-O-W!!

Mark LombardJanuary 30th, 2009 at 4:01 am

Oh, Ken,

Of course, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Martina Navratilova and Omar Sharif, who quipped “Acting is my profession. Bridge is my passion!!”