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Carolyn Eckert, RIP
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Carolyn Eckert's funeral was yesterday. She was 77. The service was packed - a fitting tribute - many having to stand and listen in the outside corridor. A large majority of the mourners were in the early to mid 20s. Not something you typically see at a memorial.

Carolyn's name is not widely known outside of Atlanta, but her bridge legacy will persist for at least fifty more years.

About 15 years ago, she and her bridge-playing husband Lee, having failed to persuade either of their daughters to play, were teaching Bridge to their 10 year old grandson, Hunter, when he complained that there were no other kids his age that played. That was an easy problem for a doting grandmother to fix. She promptly invited his entire fifth grade class to come over and learn to play bridge. They came. You didn't say no to Carolyn.

What started as a desire to teach their grandson morphed into having classes after school in her house most days of the week. She (and Lee, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention Lee) would often have 16-20 kids come right after school. Whiteboards were set up in her kitchen. Tables around the house. Friday night was the big night. A two hour class with lessons and play. Carolyn organized all of the lessons (I am sure that Lee helped in preparing the boards).

As word spread, Carolyn added more kids. Some started to learn while they were still in Kindergarten. She took them all, irrespective of background.

As the kids (now adults) would later put it: we came out of school looking to de-stress and we had to study Bridge for two hours! It was a fake complaint. Secretly they all enjoyed it.

Carolyn knew the secret of teaching, and making sure that the kids wanted to come back each week. They all mentioned it at her memorial.

A couple of years later, Atlanta Junior Bridge started, and the majority of the winners of the youth events came from Carolyn's program. By then, Carolyn was probably running the biggest youth program in the country. All from her house.

Carolyn then started taking 'her' kids to tournaments across the south east. Tennessee, South Carolina. Usually just her and Lee. 10+ kids. No parents. Many of us had to help stand in as 'bathroom monitors' as she juggled the kids to tournaments/hotels/food/transportation etc. 

Hunter played 'My Way' at the service. As was pointed out, Carolyn liked to do things, 'her way'. Fundamentally this was making sure that the kids were shown respect at the table; and the kids also showed respect when playing. Not everyone enjoyed having young kids come to their table and, occasionally, beating them. Once you understood Carolyn's philosophy, everything else was easy. She was very protective of 'her' kids. Both the kids and their parents had put trust in her, particularly when traveling, and she made sure that the trust was well justified.

Three people were initially asked to speak at the service by the family. All three were from her Bridge program. First Hunter, grandson, and then two of her non-family former students.

Some of Carolyn's students are now more well known in the Bridge community. Andrew and Richard Jeng started playing with Carolyn. Richard became the then youngest life master at 9 years old in 2009. Both Andrew and Richard became life masters at the same time. Richard also won the King of Bridge in 2017 and has represented the US.  Arjun Dhir, who was one of the first three to speak, also first played in Carolyn's program. He has also represented the US.  Richard and Arjun both went to Georgia Tech. GT now has a thriving bridge program.  I may be missing some of the other Bridge related achievements of her students. If so, please add to the comments. 

After the first three speakers, others were asked to speak. Nearly all were former students of Carolyn. Some have not played bridge in 10+ years. However, the impact that Carolyn had on their lives was profound and they wanted everyone to know it. These former students are in the early to mid 20s, finishing up at college or starting in their first jobs having just graduated from college. They all pointed out the Carolyn was more than just a bridge teacher. She became a surrogate grandmother to many of them. After they stopped playing Bridge, they continued to seek Carolyn's counsel on life.

About 12 years ago, a local TV crew came out and filmed the Georgia youth players at a sectional. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1-YWOfoyuQ.

A great side-eye at 0:08. Lee patrolling the floor just afterwards (can't see his face), Lee is also the background adult at 1:53. A young Andrew and Richard Jeng at 0:21 and 1:09. Carolyn can be seen standing, supervising 'her' kids at 2:21. She always kept a very watchful eye. Fairly sure Hunter is in there as well. For the Atlanta community, there are many other bridge faces on that clip.

Many on this site often wonder what the secret is to starting and maintaining a youth bridge program. Carolyn knew. It takes someone willing to give up their time and energy to teach. The rewards are not financial. She also had another secret for the kids to want to come, and keep coming. If only this secret was as well shared.

What was Carolyn's secret?

Carolyn's secret was simple - cookies. She loved to bake.

On the Friday afternoon/evening class, there was a break after an hour. If - and only if - and she was strict about it - you were well behaved, paid attention and were respectful then you could have a cookie. New students very quickly learned that the rules were enforced and you had better pay attention if you wanted your cookies. All phones had to be put on the stairs when the kids showed up. No distractions allowed.

Carolyn took all kids, from all backgrounds. She quietly made sure that all of her kids could participate in the tournaments and the travel.

Carolyn's kids learned not only bridge, but life's lessons when with her. You may forget a losing finesse, but you won't forget how a white-haired grandmother changed your life - Carolyn was always there for 'her' kids. Her legacy will continue in the bridge world from those that learned to play.  Some are still playing Bridge now and I am sure will continue to play for many years. I suspect many of those that stopped playing will come back to bridge when life gives them the opportunity to play. Carolyn's biggest legacy was instilling in her kids the joy of giving back to a game she loved and the impact that she had on all of them in their non-bridge lives. Bridge is only a game; life is more important. The tributes from all of 20 somethings that came up and spoke about the impact that Carolyn had on their lives was very moving. 

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