When tennis star Ham Richardson and magazine editor Midge Turk met on a Los Angeles-bound jet six years ago, it was not love at first flight. “I didn’t think he was very good-looking,” she recalls, “which is awful because he is so good-looking.” Ham, who was so late that he had to pound on the plane door to get aboard, remembers that “Midge had on this short skirt, and I was trying to figure out how old she was and what she had done.”
She was 41 and, among other things, had been a child actress who had appeared in 150 films, a nun for 18 years, an assistant to the dean at New York University and an editor at Glamour magazine. Richardson’s life had been no less remarkable: Phi Beta Kappa at Tulane, Rhodes scholar and, in spite of discovering at age 15 that he was diabetic, a Davis Cup star and the top-ranked U.S. amateur tennis player in 1956 and 1958. “I was the best in 1957 too,” he adds accurately, if immodestly, “but I didn’t play in enough tournaments to be ranked.” Off-court Ham (a distant cousin to former Cabinet member Elliot Richardson) was doing well too, dabbling in a variety of business ventures while working as a stockbroker.
At the time he was living in Dallas with his wife, Ann, daughter Kathryn and sons Kevin and Kenneth. The couple had been college sweethearts at Tulane—Ham was born in Baton Rouge—who married in 1956. They spent their first year together at Oxford, where Ham took a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics. Afterward he served for two years as Louisiana Sen. Russell Long’s legislative assistant in Washington. He moved to Texas, Richardson explains, “primarily because there was no way in those days you could play winter tennis in the East.”
In 1970 Ham transferred to New York—where indoor winter tennis had finally taken hold—and by August 1971 had divorced his first wife. Three years later he and Midge were married in a small private ceremony during a blizzard. They celebrated their wedding night by putting up the snowbound bridal party in their Park Avenue penthouse.
“Ham is my best friend as well as someone I love,” she confides, choosing her words with care. “He has given me breadth. He is soothing and supportive. He is very respectful of my independence. We’re two very independent people who have learned to live with each other.” Adds Ham: “She’s fun, interesting, nice to be with and she lets me be myself. That’s very important in a marriage. You can’t change people.”
Midge Turk Richardson, notwithstanding, has lived through some profound changes. The youngest daughter of a Vienna-born school administrator in Los Angeles and his music teacher wife, Midge was 18 when she put on the black-and-blue habit of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Combining her grandmother’s and mother’s Christian names, she called herself Sister Agnes Marie. “I entered the convent because I believed in helping people,” she once declared. “If there had been a Peace Corps I probably would have joined that. I never had any great thing about dressing up in those clothes and jangling my rosary beads.”
After earning a master’s degree, Sister Agnes Marie taught high school English and was principal of a Chicano school in L.A. before serving as mother superior for 18 nuns. “I really loved the life,” she recalls fondly. “We laughed a great deal and I formed friendships that I cherish.” Midge resigned in 1966 more for philosophical than personal reasons. “We were very interested in furthering the work of women in the church,” she says. “We wanted to do more than we were allowed at the time.”
Leaving the order was the most difficult decision of her life, but once out she reveled in her new freedom. “The thing I loved most,” she remembers, “was waiting in line and not being stared at—just being ordinary.” Still, the transition was difficult for a woman who had never lived outside the church as an adult. “Nobody likes to feel stupid at 36,” she confesses. For the first eight months in New York, where she worked at NYU’s School of the Arts, she told no one of her past. “I would go to buy clothes and stand in front of the mirror for 20 minutes thinking, ‘Who am I?’ ”
Some social encounters were embarrassing—being seated next to comedian Alan King at a dinner and asking what he did for a living—and some were bleakly funny. Before her first date, she recalls, she washed her hair and then realized she didn’t own a hair dryer. So she stuck her head in the kitchen oven, promptly singeing her newly cut and streaked hairdo. Eventually Midge adjusted, and, on the strength of her autobiography The Buried Life, was offered the post of college editor at Glamour. After seven years there, she stepped up to the top job of executive editor at Seventeen—part of Walter Annenberg’s publishing empire, along with TV Guide and the Daily Racing Form.
Midge, who jets around the country on the company’s Gulfstream, starts her workday at Seventeen’s Manhattan office around 9:15 a.m. She is usually home about 6 p.m. By contrast, her husband works out of an office in their trophy-lined apartment forming oil and natural gas partnerships. “I work in spurts,” he explains, “and usually close big deals three times a year.” Richardson, lean and fit at 44, still plays tennis competitively—he and his son Kevin, 17, last week entered the national father-son championships—and he attends seminars on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. (Ham must inject himself daily with insulin.)
The Richardsons’ parties often revolve around the Game. They rent several courts for doubles among friends like director Arthur Penn, photographer Gordon Parks, actress Tammy Grimes and assorted Kennedys. “At an age when most people are tired of marriage,” observes their good friend, author Gay Talese, “they bring a great vitality to it.” A healthy dash of humor, too. “When I first saw him in tennis shorts,” says Midge, grinning, “I thought, ‘That’s it.’ The thing I love most about Ham are his legs!” Ham returns the compliment. “Every time I walk by Midge,” he says of the former Sister Agnes Marie, “I want to pat her on the ass.”