There’s never been anyone quite like Buck Dawson in the industry and probably never will be. The champion of the International Swimming Hall of Fame has been described as a fund-raiser extraordinaire, war hero and ambassador of swimming. He was all that and more.
Known as much for the black eye patch over his left eye as his gregarious nature, the man worked tirelessly to establish ISHOF in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and became its first executive director in 1963. Then he threw all that energy into developing it into a top-notch facility, as well as traveling around the country, promoting ISHOF and swimming.
Born in 1920, he packed a lot of living into his 87 years. William Forrest Dawson was a track team captain and state champion halfback at Blair Academy in New Jersey. In fact, that’s where he got his nickname. The other football players started calling him “Buck” after he returned from a summer job on a ranch. He went on to University of Michigan, where he was a track star, too.
During World War II, Dawson fought in the Battle of the Bulge and other engagements, receiving numerous medals, including the Bronze Star. He later headed public relations for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Berlin, and helped facilitate filming of the Billy Wilder movie “Foreign Affair.” When Dawson was discharged in 1948, he traveled to California, hoping to break into show biz. But it wasn’t meant to be.
After returning to the university to get his degree, Dawson then tried different jobs, but nothing clicked. So he re-enlisted in the Army and was sent back to Germany. He was involved in a bad auto accident there, sustaining the eye injury that caused him to wear a patch the rest of his life.
In 1955, he married RoseMary Mann Corson, a swim coach and widow with three children. Together, the Dawsons organized one of the nation’s first women’s swim clubs, and also worked with competitive swim camps founded by her father in Canada. Buck served on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Committee as well.
Yet for all his works, Dawson is probably remembered most for his crowning achievement: ISHOF. He worked there 22 years, retiring in 1986. He passed away in 2008.