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Longboat Key Monday, Jul. 26, 2021 1 month ago

Bob Ruff, a tennis devotee who organized games on Longboat Key, dies at 93

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Ruff organized a group of 40 men through thousands of tennis games throughout his life.
by: Nat Kaemmerer Staff Writer

A termite walks into an English pub and asks, “Where is the bartender?” 

That’s the joke John Woods thinks of when he thinks of the humor and smarts that defined longtime tennis player and group organizer Bob Ruff. Woods was sitting in the front row as Ruff walked up to start a tennis association meeting. 

“As soon as he finishes that joke, he starts right in on the meeting and everybody, including myself, was like, ‘What?’” Woods said. “Every 30 seconds or a minute somebody would start laughing out loud as they got it. People would just be sitting there thinking, thinking, thinking. That shows his sense of humor and command of audience and everything else.”

Ruff died July 13 at age 93. He was well-known on Longboat Key for organizing the Ruff Group, a group of about 40 guys who played at the Longboat Key Club’s Tennis Gardens. The group started in the 1980s and Ruff used to organize doubles games six days a week, though it was down to three days a week in recent years. 

“I have known and played in Bob’s group for 20 years,” longtime friend Bob Simmons said. “A couple years ago a few of us did a back-of-the-envelope thing trying to calculate how many games of tennis Bob put together … We came up with over 30,000 games that he arranged at the Longboat Key Club. For some of us who arrange our own games today we think that is incredible, so we redid the numbers and every time it came up with upwards of 30,000 games.”

Ruff’s daughter, Kay Ruff, said that her dad never used a spreadsheet to keep track of the schedule — it was all in his head. He was known to many as the Professor and Kay said he was the smartest man she knew. They couldn’t get through a holiday meal without Ruff grabbing the encyclopedia to double check some fact or another, and he once even corrected a Trivial Pursuit question. He read constantly and always had two TVs in every room: one for the Tennis Channel and one for news or other programs. 

“We used to call (the kitchen) Command Central,” Kay said. “Once he found out about computers and that it was basically an encyclopedia for him, that was it.” 

That sharp brain applied to the back-and-forth of tennis as well as the back-and-forth of conversation. Ruff was known for his quick quips, especially as he watched the games he put together. Simmons remembered that he would call players out with some gentle teasing for faux pas or missed calls. As dry and quick as his wit was, he’s remembered more than anything as a gentleman by his old tennis buddies. 

“The tenderness that Dad has comes across,” Kay Ruff said. “To have such a smart guy who really appreciated wit and loved the repartee of conversation, he really had a soft heart. To be able to give it out like he does, he has to be able to take it, and oh, do they give it to him.”

Tennis was his whole life, and he loved to win. Ruff became a tennis player after starting a team at his high school and was devoted to the game for the rest of his life, bringing tennis clothes on work trips and shoveling snow off courts in the dead of winter in his home in Indiana so he could get a game in. 

“He played in the group also, but he was such a gentleman (that) if somebody happened to pop in or they had too many people, he would be the first to sit out,” Woods said. “He arranged all the courts and all the matches and that’s a job in itself … He did it beautifully in his low-key manner.”

And if you didn’t get Ruff’s joke, perhaps this would help: Where is the bar tender? 

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Nat Kaemmerer is your Longboat Key community reporter. She earned a bachelor's degree in magazine arts and culture journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2019 and has lived in Florida or Missouri her whole life. 

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