Arthur Ashe, who left Virginia as a teenager because he was unable to improve his tennis game in a seg-regated city, was remembered as a hero Saturday by residents of his hometown.

"Not only have I lost a dear personal friend, America has lost a model giant," said Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who was described by an aide as "terribly saddened" by the news of Ashe's death Saturday.Wilder often made references to how Ashe never harbored bitter feelings toward Richmond, even though the opportunities for him to improve as a young tennis player were limited by the segregation practiced during that era.

Wilder recalled a day when he was in his late teens and went to a Richmond park to play tennis. He and his partner chased off a youngster who was practicing by himself. That youngster, about 5 or 6, turned out to be Ashe.

Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, grew close over the years to Ashe, the first black man to win Wimbledon. Wilder was among the few people Ashe called in April before he revealed that he had AIDS.

"His leadership may not be confined to athletics and sports alone," Wilder said, "for he was totally committed to improving the lives of those yet to enjoy the full fruition of rights and opportunities in this country."

Among those who Ashe joined in the fight against the disease was basketball star Magic Johnson, who has tested positive for HIV.

"Arthur Ashe's passing makes this a very sad day, not only for the world of sports, but the entire world in general," Johnson said in a statement released through his agent. "Not only was Arthur a leading figure and pioneer for minorities in sports and business, but also in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

"He was one of the best men of his generation, and his loss is a loss for all of us. If one can look for hope, however, on this very sad occasion, it is that this is yet another compelling reminder of just how important it is to find a cure for this horrible disease," he said.

Tim Mayotte, a former player, said: "The sport has lost a great leader, a great friend and a great player."

"We were all kind of hoping he had a little bit more time," said Gilbert L. Carter, a childhood schoolmate of Ashe's who is now deputy director of Richmond's Recreation and Parks Department. "I know there were quite a few things he still felt he had to do."

"America has lost a great hero, not just for Afro-Americans but for all folks because of the integrity and the honor of what he was all about," said Rayford L. Harris, who worked with Ashe on community projects in Richmond.

"Arthur Ashe was a role model for a lot of youngsters," Harris said, "not only because he was a champion and a great athlete, but because of how he encouraged the young and not-so-young to develop and utilize their abilities to the highest possible extent."

New York Mayor David Dinkins said he lost a "very loving friend. Simply put, words cannot suffice to capture a career as glorious, a life so fully lived, or a commitment to justice as firm and as fair as was his," Dinkins said in a statement. "Nor can words suffice to capture the sense of loss I feel in knowing he is no longer among us."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson praised Ashe's dignity. "He had character and courage on and off the field," Jackson said. "He had the kind of dignity that helped the world."