WEST NEWBURY — She had always been good at keeping secrets. In fact, Heather Crowe Conner prided herself on keeping one particular secret for 35 years — until the day came when she just couldn't keep it private any longer.
A former tennis professional who played numerous times at Wimbledon and the US Open, Conner broke her silence for the first time publicly last week when she revealed she had been molested and raped by her tennis coach for 15 years as a teen and young woman growing up in Topsfield.
Her moving disclosure came at a meeting of the Pentucket Regional School Committee during a portion of the agenda reserved for public commentary. At the end of the 10-minute speech, many in the audience and on the school board rose to give her a standing ovation.
Conner said she was speaking out now in part because she wanted people to understand why she resigned so abruptly from the Pentucket committee last August. She also hopes to be an example for young people today who might be experiencing what she did growing up and to serve as a cautionary tale for parents about the warning signs — or lack of warning signs — from kids in distress. She believes her story would be useful in discussions on anti-bullying and health and wellness for Pentucket students.
Conner chose not to reveal the name of her abuser, describing him only as a Hall of Fame tennis star widely considered "the best doubles player in the world" and someone who had won "many Grand Slam tournaments."
She first met the 36-year-old married man in 1975 when he was hired as the traveling tennis pro. The tennis star told her and her family that he admired her athleticism and drive. He offered to help the 14-year-old Conner — known then as Heather Crowe — train for free because, he told them, he believed she had what it took to become a great tennis player.