Chuck DeVoe, a multitalented sportsman who was instrumental in bringing big-time pro sports to Indianapolis, died Saturday at age 83.
The cause of death was melanoma, his family said. He'd been diagnosed in September.
In 1967 DeVoe was among a handful of local businessmen who founded the Indiana Pacers, which would become the American Basketball Association's most successful team and today sits atop the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference. DeVoe was the team's president from 1968-74, overseeing three ABA championship seasons. The Pacers joined the NBA in 1976.
"You can't give those DeVoe boys enough credit," John Jewett, who was part of the Pacers original ownership, said in a 1995 interview. "Talk about charging in where angels fear to tread. They did what no one else had the gumption to do."
L. Charles DeVoe was born in Indianapolis in 1930, the oldest of three high-achieving brothers. John DeVoe, who once scored 73 points in a high school basketball game, was his partner in the Pacers and was team president in 1968 when he died of a heart attack at a game. Stephen DeVoe, who survives and practices law in Indianapolis, is a former director of professional tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association and tournament director for the U.S. Open.
Chuck DeVoe was an astute multitasker. While running the Pacers, he also was president of L.M. DeVoe Co., a business started by his father that sells electronics. He also managed to be a professional level tennis player, the holder of 11 Indiana state open singles titles and later of numerous national seniors titles. He played in two U.S. Nationals (now called the U.S. Open) in the 1950s, once extending eventual champion Art Larsen to five sets. He and his brothers, also expert tennis players, opened Indianapolis' first indoor tennis facility, the Indianapolis Racquet Club, in 1965.
DeVoe's greatest tennis moment came in 1966 and was miraculous. As a 36-year-old businessman and suburban family man, he entered the Western Tennis Championship at Woodstock Club in Indianapolis. His first round opponent was the 21-year-old Puerto Rican phenom Charles Pasarell, just back from Wimbledon, where he'd reached the quarterfinals. DeVoe won, 6-2, 9-7.
"Dad was a very, very hard worker, and it was important to him to excel in everything he did," said his daughter, Anne DeVoe Lawler, a lawyer living in Seattle.
"The fact Chuck was an athlete himself helped him relate to us," said Mel Daniels, a former Pacers star. "He just knew what it all means, what it means to compete, what athletics means."
Daniels, with his old Pacer teammate Bob Netolicky and the team's trainer, Dave Craig, visited DeVoe on Friday as their old boss and friend lay dying. "It was tough, but he knew we were there," Daniels said. "He squeezed Neto's hand and opened his eyes, and that made us all feel good."
"He teared up a little," said Netolicky, "and I'm glad — he knew how much we cared."
Netolicky, who with his longish hair and boyish good looks was Indianapolis' version of "Broadway" Joe Namath, recalled arriving in Indianapolis in 1967 from Drake University to discover his new city was a dull place — "about as dead as any town I'd ever seen."
The Pacers made it considerably less dull, with Netolicky doing his part by opening a bar, called Neto's. The team's move to Market Square Arena in 1974 is seen as an important catalyst for the Downtown renaissance. "It's not a stretch to say that without the DeVoes' foresight, without the Pacers getting it started, there might not be much of a Downtown even now," Netolicky said.
The Downtown may be rollicking these days, but DeVoe was always the picture of understated decorum, almost deaconlike in his self-control. "He never drew attention to himself," Netolicky said. "He was a quiet man."
DeVoe recently confided to his oldest son, Mike, that he refused to defeat a tennis opponent by a score of 6-0, 6-0. He'd always purposefully lose a game or so and was talented enough to conceal the charity. "It was out of admiration and friendship for his competitors," Mike DeVoe said.
At parties, DeVoe would have maybe one drink, his daughter said, and yet was "a very social person" and could cut loose.
At his granddaughter's wedding last July, for instance, he danced with his daughter a slow dance that was part of the gala but stayed on the floor after the uptempo music kicked in and more or less rocked out.
DeVoe was married for 61 years to his wife, Jody. The two met in dancing school as teenagers. She survives, as do the couple' three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.