Tennis great Rod Laver loses his partner in life

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Soon, Mary was hit with a series of serious health problems, including breast cancer and several heart attacks. Then, four years ago, peripheral neuropathy took over her body. It is a complicated condition, often manifesting itself in burning nerve endings in hands and feet.

Laver became the caregiver.

"It never was like, now it is your turn," Laver says. "She never said anything like that."

The world traveler became a homebody and wanted it no other way. Laver spent hours rubbing heat and pain out of her feet, filling buckets with ice for those feet, giving her nine pills a day of vitamin D to calm her nerve endings, even holding special lighting on painful areas to stimulate blood flow.

"Sometimes, we would put an ice pack on her head," Laver says. "It would melt almost immediately."

There was no specific cause of death, just an accumulation of everything. Ann says her family had seen her, was around her, and she was ready.

Since November, Laver has ventured out just a little, to his brother's 80th birthday party in Australia, to the Indian Wells tournament.

"I can get out now," he says, "but I don't want to."

Words on the back page of the program from Mary's memorial service nudge him: "Miss me a little, but not too long."

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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