League_banner 2023_AO_LOGO GPTA_image facebook     twitter     youtube
USTA Georgia
116 Marble Mill Road
Marietta, GA 30060
Tax ID 58-1309245

Tennis Spans Decades Gap in Cousins’ Lives

August 21, 2016 12:45 PM

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Debi Dinwiddie-Johnson (top) and Pam Brandner play their matches at the Asheville Racquet Club Downtown.

Even though they knew they’d see each other, a few decades gap melted away in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Resort Asheville.

“I wanted to see her so badly I ran down in my PJs,” said Debi Dinwiddie-Johnson of Georgia. “I recognized her immediately. I was crying,” said Pam Brandner of Louisiana.

Cousins were reunited due to tennis and their advancement to the 2016 USTA League Adult 40 & Over Southern Sectional Championships. It’s been 16 years since their last family reunion but they cited a 1979 wedding in Buffalo, N.Y. that was the last time they spent a lot of time together.

Thanks to a family Facebook connection who noticed that both players were headed to Asheville, Brandner and Dinwiddie-Johnson knew that Thursday night’s reunion would be something special.

Their family roots go back to North Tonawanda, N.Y., a suburb of Niagara Falls. They still talk lovingly of their grandmother from the Urbana clan. “I tear up when I think of her,” Brandner said. Her cousin nodded and tenderly touched her hand.

“Our family had a mom and pop store,” recalled Dinwiddie-Johnson. “I remember they would have slices of homemade pizza near the front door.”

Pam is “like a best friend who lives in another country. … There are so many similarities between us. I think it comes from our grandmother and her morals and values,” Dinwiddie-Johnson said. She plays on the Georgia (B) 4.0 team and lives in Midland, outside of Columbus. Besides their long-time love of tennis, they both are distributors of Juice Plus , a health supplement containing fruits, vegetables and grains. They also were competitive swimmers at a young age.

Brandner grew up in Southern states and played junior tournaments but put down the racquet for years. She has been living in the New Orleans and now plays for the Louisiana 4.5 (B) team out of Mandeville/Covington.

Dinwiddie-Johnson played in high school and advanced to the state championships three times, twice in New Mexico and once in Oregon. Now she plays as many as four times a week.

Each night of the tournament, the two have reconnected and don’t plan on letting more years pass without seeing each other.

“It’s not that far between Georgia and Louisiana,” added Dinwiddie-Johnson.