Local official’s storied career highlighted through online gallery
GLOUCESTER, MA – Throughout her 12 years as a tennis official, Mary Lou Tierney did something truly special. From 1981-1993, the Gloucester, MA resident traveled the world alongside tennis’ elite ensuring honest and fair matches at the highest level.
Her professional journey began on Hilton Head Island, SC, where she worked as the pro shop manager and sales representative for Rod Laver’s tennis academy. That’s where, on occasion, she also first served as a volunteer official.
As her career took her west, she decided to give officiating a real shot, and in 1984, she worked her first paid tournament, a challenger event in California.
It was there she caught the bug, and she also happened to get really good, really fast. From that year forward, Tierney was selected to officiate the US Open as a chair umpire, a position she proudly owned until 1993. She even worked the 1991 women’s singles and 1993 doubles finals.
During that historic span, Tierney made waves internationally as well.
She worked the chair at Wimbledon for five years, a rare feat for foreigners at the time. Of the roughly 330 officials chosen for the event, she was one of seven Americans and one of only 30 from outside of the United Kingdom.
In 1993, in her one French Open appearance, Tierney put her name in the record books as the lone American official and only non-French woman to work the event.
The 1992-93 seasons brought unforgettable memories for Tierney. She traveled for 42 weeks a year, including working the Barcelona Olympics in ‘92 and completing a calendar slam in 1993, working all four Grand Slam events as a chair umpire.
“That felt amazing, and I’m so grateful for those years. I was able to experience some incredible cultures, not as a tourist, but as a coworker,” Tierney said. “The duration of time I was there made it more special. We’d be there for 6-7 weeks working pre-Grand Slam events to familiarize ourselves with the surfaces, so I was able to get very close with everyone, especially the same family in London I stayed with for years.”
During the ‘93 season, around the time tennis’ governing bodies started hiring full-time officials (they previously worked as independent contractors), Tierney hoped to be hired and brought on as a mainstay and continue her global tennis journey.
“I was told I was not being hired by the ITF because I was female and they were only hiring men at the time. I said to myself, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’ I didn’t see a path forward for me,” Tierney recalled. “I ended up running into Martina (Navratilova) at a tournament in Eastbourne, England before Wilbledon, and she pulled me into the locker room and asked me why I wasn’t going to be officiating anymore. At the end of that tournament, I was a line judge, and she came up to me and told me I was a very good official. She was awesome.”
There are currently 33 gold-badge umpires in tennis that typically work Grand Slam or ATP and WTA tour events – 22 males and 11 females.
Tierney made a pact with herself that if she wasn’t hired full time, she'd return to college to finish her degree. She did one better, earning both her bachelors and masters in product design.
Tierney credits her time working as an official for guiding her through her education.
“Everything I studied was highly collaborative and I had presentations all the time. Thanks to tennis, I had no problem standing up in front of a room, projecting my voice and pronouncing clearly. The biggest thing also as chair umpire was having to anticipate behavior before it happens, something that has been hugely beneficial in a day-to-day environment.”
Tierney now works as a brain and nervous system and metabolic system health coach.
Nearly 30 years after working her final match, Tierney’s officiating journey can be relived through Lasell University’s online fashion exhibit. Some of her favorite pieces of memorabilia, including uniforms, badges, pins, gifts and a famous photo of John McEnroe getting in her face while arguing a line call, are on display.
“For some reason, I held onto what I thought were important artifacts from this important part of my life,” Tierney said. “I met Jill Carey, curator of this fashion collection, and we became friends through dog walking. She has a big interest in women’s uniforms and even has the first nurse’s uniform from the Red Cross. She said she was interested in my collection, so I was happy to share it.”
The gallery can be viewed here.