Her mother called her Margaret. Her friends, husband and children, nothing but Maggie. She grew up in Sacramento. She had been born in Santa Maria where grandfather, J.B. Bonetti was the largest dairy farmer in the area. Her mother, Florence, nicknamed “Beeb” was a bit of a rebel.
Beeb was educatd at Notre Dame on the peninsula. She defied her father and married the bank teller, Bertrand Jesse. To the proud immigrant father from the Swiss canton of Sameo, Marrying a Scot was definitely below his station he was not pleased with the nuptials.
Bert (my other grandfather whom I never met) was a feed and grain speculator–– whatever that is. Family legend has it that he was the first man to introduce asparagus into the Delta. He died young. Three weeks after Maggie was married in 1943. (Most likely, he drank himself to death).
Thanks to the depression and speculative investments, “Beeb”, was now living in an apartment in Sacramento, after having been born in the largest house in Santa Maria. The Depression helped another Pisano, Bank of America’s founder, A. P. Giannini end up with most of Beeb’s father’s wealth as well.
Though he lost most of his land, J. P. left enough for Maggie’s grandmother “Dona” to end her days in comfort in the Fairmont Hotel. It was there, as a little girl, Maggie learned to swim–– in the pool that became the center piece of the famed Tonga room.
Monthly, Maggie’s mother, “Beeb,” caused a minor stir in the local Sacramento bank when she would attempt to pay off family debts. “It’s off the books, Mrs. Jesse,” the bank manager would repeat, monthly—to no avial. She would leave the cash in an envelope and walk out. I never heard what happened to the money. Beeb wasn’t the only child of a farmer who pawned her own wedding ring during the depression.
Maggie’s childhood might have been unremarkable had not Dick Stevens accidentally seen a 12-year-old girl playing baseball with the guys. As you may know, a tennis serving motion is the same as towing a ball. Stevens, the future Cal tennis coach, and Tom Stow’s assistant (long before Tom, Don Budge’s coach, became the tennis pro at Meadowood and Silverado), he agreed to take on Maggie.
Beeb would have stopped this foolish waste of time, but her youngest son was dying of leukemia at age 14, so she dug deep and produced the $27.50 (for 10 lessons) to buy her daughter some happiness.
Maggie’s teens were spent banging dead tennis balls against the garage door. She developed the “perfect” backhand.
Her first tennis tourney at the Berkeley tennis club found her up against the number one seed in the first round–Gussy Moran. Beeb was furious, for the trip to Berkeley was an extravagant waste of money.
The rest is history. Maggie upset the favorite and went on later to win the California state singles and doubles.
In 1938 she and Beeb traveled east, where Maggie won the national 18 and under’s in both doubles and singles–losing only the nationals on grass and costing Bobby Riggs $25 for betting on her. It wasn’t the last time she was to encounter Riggs, the national men’s champion. Riggs was rated #1 in the country at the time.
Maggie and Tate Coulthard had taken Riggs and his partner to match point in the Pacific Coast Championship tennis mixed doubles finals–– before losing the next day in three sets after the match was called because of darkness. Yes she could play.
But mostly she was a competitor. Physically talented, yes. But it was the mental game where she truly shined.
Once, after losing a game love–40, she said to her male opponent, “Gee, I don’t know what you’ve done to change your serve, but don’t change it back.” End of match! The psyche job always worked.
Master of the nasty drop shot, hers was a serve and volley game at time when women really cross the base line.
She captured another local Sacramento boy, Herb Caen’s attention, and the Sacramenna kid would Pepper his famous Column with references to this other Sacto contemporary. One of his favorite items was about Maggie’s tennis court at the lazy J. She named it, of course, “The Warren court.”
Maggie had her own style. She refused to wear sunblock because it wasn’t necessary. “I’m moving all the time on the court. I don’t need it.”
She was a guy’s gal whose sarcastic wit endeared her to all. Her tennis partners ran the gamut from Ernesto Lawrence (co-creator of the Atom bomb) to film star Mickey Rooney.
In the late 50s, she gave up tennis (there were a few courts in St. Helena) to follow her husband up to lazy J in Conn Valley.
She traded in a racket for a milking stool (well not quite), and gave up her own life that her husband and boys might be raisied the country.
She moved off the ranch and into town a few years after Jim Pop died.
She didn’t play as much she once did, using a verbal skills and competitive instincts to win bridge rubbers instead of match points. But she was still Beeb’s daughter–––– proud–– standing tall–– paying for tennis lessons for grandkids and making sure that her grandchildren live up to the standards of the proud woman who would let no one pay her debts for her . Yes even the grand children called her Maggie. I got to call her “Mom.” We loved her.