Professor Emerita “Goldie” Edwards and Her Journey from New Zealand to Pitt to the Squash Hall of Fame
by John Conroy
After playing squash at a competitive level for 35 years, Professor Emerita Marigold “Goldie” Edwards stepped away from the game in 2001 due to knee problems. Last fall, she was invited to Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she was inducted into the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame.
Edwards’ journey to that point began more than 50 years earlier, when she left New Zealand at the age of 26 for Canada and a teaching job at the University of Saskatchewan. And while she played a lot of sports—cricket, field hockey, tennis—growing up, she didn’t discover squash and badminton until moving to North America.
Her plan was to work for a few years, then go to England, do some hitchhiking, and return to New Zealand. But she first managed to get a job on a Royal Canadian Air Force station in Germany, where she ran its recreation program.
Then her path switched again. “I think it was August 24, in 1962, and I got a cable from the University of Pittsburgh saying, ‘Could you start September 1?’” says Edwards. She had previously met a professor at a conference, who was friends with a department chair at the School of Education. About six months later, an intended faculty member backed out, and Edwards’ name was brought up. “I figured, I can do this for a couple years. I hadn’t really thought about being in the states, but I came to Pitt and they were so good to me that I stayed.”
For a few years after moving to Pittsburgh in 1962, Edwards would play badminton but could not find the level of play locally to warrant the commitment. “So somebody said, ‘Why not try squash?’ They took me up to the courts at the Fitzgerald Field House,” says Edwards. “There had been no women there, and I wouldn’t see any for another two or three years. And they showed me this racquet that’s the same length as a tennis racquet. And I thought this is really dangerous, there’s no net.” She walked away for a year. But she returned, and played almost every day for two years with two other male players. “In those two years, I got in four years of squash. And then when I went to my first tournament, I was nervous just because I had never seen women play. But it just took off from there.”
While improving her own squash education, Edwards was also educating others as a faculty member at the School of Education, where she focused on teaching health and wellness. She also earned her master’s and doctoral degrees at Pitt, and was a member and eventual chair of both the University Athletic Committee and the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns.
“I like to think of ways I can make health palatable to people,” says Edwards. “It’s about behavioral change, because you can do something about it. Nutrition and exercise make a difference in how you look and feel. Exercise is medicine.”
Putting her own philosophies to work, Edwards conducted tennis and badminton clinics across the country for teachers via the American Alliance for Health Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; was on the national committee for the United States Tennis Association; and consulted the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
Her focus was not purely on physical health, however. “I particularly enjoyed teaching courses on stress management and tension control. And many of the talks and workshops I gave at colleges and corporations across the country were about managing yourself for managing stress, which is directly related to the nutrition and exercise. It’s the mind-body connection, and you need to know where the stress is coming from.”
In 2001, Edwards’ stress was coming from a nagging knee problem, forcing her to walk away from squash. During her career, Edwards had reached the finals of the open nationals four times; won the 1971 and 1972 Canadian national singles; and between 1974 and 2001 won 28 titles in a variety of age groups in both American hardball and international softball, while also consistently playing in the professional league and mostly maintaining a ranking between 2 and 10. “I was so distraught because squash is my passion,” says Edwards. “So I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I didn’t want to go near a court. I gave away my equipment.”
Following her decision, she had a hip replacement as well as knee and shoulder surgery, which reduced mobility in one of her arms. But that has not held her back. She still “tries to play” tennis, as she says, because the size of the court makes playing the game easier. “I went to the U.S. tennis championships, and there was a woman who hit on both sides with both hands. So I figured, Okay, I can’t do it with the one hand because I can’t hold racquet in it. But with two hands I can do that.”
In addition, Edwards takes great joy in hiking and doing outdoor activities. Since retiring from Pitt in 1999, she’s traveled to places like Spain and Italy, and every year makes a return visit to New Zealand from December to April. She adds, “I feel the cold and now that I’m retired, I don’t have to put up with it.”
She looks at her time at Pitt fondly. “I had a wonderful time, I can’t ever thank Pitt enough. I am indebted to the opportunities that they gave me,” she says. And she also keeps up on the current activity at the school. “I’m just absolutely blown away by the quality of the faculty, the funding, and the research, and I am so pleased to see where we rank nationwide and worldwide.”
And after 15 years away from squash, it was ultimately through receiving her U.S.Squash Hall of Fame honor that she was able to reconnect with the sport. “At the ceremony, I invited people to my table, some of whom I hadn’t seen in 30 years. It has put me back in touch with all these people and they’ve been nice about not caring that I had been away for that length of time.”
As for the award itself, Edwards says it’s a “real honor and I’m very grateful,” especially considering that there are only 51 other inductees in the hall of fame. “It feels like I’ve had 15 seconds of fame at an advanced age. It’s something I didn’t think would happen. I’m not particularly social or outgoing, but I’ve enjoyed it.”