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In The Right Place at The Right Time

Involved in Masters swimming from its inception

Meegan Wilson | July 19, 2000

Robert E. Beach, born in Hollywood, Calif. on July 26, 1930, graduated from the Army and Navy Academy, Carlsbad, Calif., in 1948. He received a BA degree from the University of Tampa in 1955 and received his LLB in 1958 from Stetson College of Law. He resides in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was a circuit court judge of Pinellas County, Fla. for 25 years. Since his retirement in 1993, he has been traveling world-wide. His eleven year old granddaughter, Courtney Harris, said "He's been to all fifty states, plus many, many countries...some I've never even heard of." Bob said he is able to travel because he looks for bargain fares and sleeps in his rental cars, stopping in church yards, in hospital parking lots, or at all-night gas stations.

Bob started swimming regularly in 1968 after finally deciding that jogging was not his sport. "I was not a super athlete as a young person," he said. "I didn't swim in college. So I was really proud to be in the right place at the right time and be involved in Masters swimming from its inception." He was very instrumental in the formation and development of Masters swimming at the national level as well as in St. Petersburg, where he is a member of St. Pete Masters. He hosted the second Masters meet ever held in the United States at St. Petersburg in 1971, where 17 people attended. Today that same meet draws around 300 participants.

Bob Beach was vice-chairman of the National Masters Committee of AAU between 1971 and 1977. He worked to have Masters included in the AAU, and he is credited with overcoming much of the early resistance to Masters swimming within the swimming community. Masters swimming was officially adopted by the AAU in 1972 and, in 1981, USMS became the only independent aquatic sport governed by its athletes.

Bob was treasurer of the U.S. Foundation for Aquatic Sports and was chairman of the Captain Ransom J. Arthur Award Committee from 1973 to 1987. He became the 1986 recipient of the award, given annually by USMS to the person who has done the most to further the objectives of Masters swimming. He has also been president of the U.S. Water Fitness Association.

His swimming accomplishments include being a National AAU Masters Champion, an All-American, and a national and world record holder in Masters swimming. In 1973 he was the national long distance swimming champion in the 40-44 age group. On August 11, 1974, Robert Beach was the "first judge" to swim from Alcatraz Island across San Francisco Bay, completing the swim in 33 minutes. He has also completed a 9.5 mile swim across Lake Michigan.

While Bob and his wife Wanda were touring England in 1980, he attempted to swim the English Channel to celebrate his 50th birthday. Wanda followed him in a boat that was recording his progress. The shortest distance between Dover, England and France is 21 miles, but prevailing tides, currents and winds make the trip much longer. He got to within two miles of France when the current changed and he had to stop, after being in the 59 degree water for 11 hours. He was the third American to attempt the crossing that year. Granddaughter Courtney Harris said, "In three years, he is thinking about swimming the English Channel again on his 70th birthday."

Bob Beach was also a member of the South End Rowing Club located on Aquatic Cove in San Francisco, Calif. On September 1, 1990 he competed in the "Over 50" division of the 17th Annual Maui Channel Relay Swim along with team members Mike Lagios, Jim Miller , Norm Peterson, Denis Rice, and Jerry Smith . Bob had the lead leg, a half hour swim, which was followed by 10 minute swims from each relay member until the course is completed. Their 54 foot pilot schooner had engine problems at the start of Bob's swim, but managed to catch up with him in time for the transfer. However, after two hours of the relay team's progress, the steering cable came lose and the schooner was cast adrift. Norm Peterson was in the water swimming north toward Maui, as the rest of the team were drifting south. Luckily, the team was able to hitch a ride aboard the yacht Via Mia and finished the race to Kannapali Beach on Maui. Despite their problems, they finished second out of 52 relay teams. The other SERC team won the event. Two days later Bob Beach won the 60-64 division in the 25th Annual Waikiki Roughwater Swim. With over 1200 swimmers competing, Bob swam the 2.37 mile course in 1 hour 15 minutes, a full eight minutes before the second place finisher in his age group.

But traveling and swimming isn't all Bob can do. "I knew a few movie stars," he said, and listed, Johnny Weissmuller, Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes movies), Brian Donlevy and Ida Lupino, Greta Garbo, and Ann Devorak (a good friend).

In 1996 he made his Broadway debut, for a day, in "Beauty and the Beast". He had met his daughter Janet Harris in New York where they attended four Broadway plays. During the play "Beauty and the Beast" he had the opportunity to bid in a silent auction on a charity fund raising event. The winner would appear in three scenes in "Beauty and the Beast".

Bob said "I loved the show. There was no vulgarity. I thought my granddaughters would love seeing me in it. I started fantasizing about being in the show. I was stage-struck."

Two weeks later he was contacted that he had won, and he set the date for the July 14 matinee. Courtney and her sister Caitlin along with their parents were his special guests. They watched as their grandfather sang and danced in the opening number "Belle" as villager, Etienne. He also appeared in a mob scene with Gaston and again in a battle scene at the end of act III.

Courtney said "My grandfather has done so many great and wonderful things in his life and is sure to do more." And she wants to follow in his footsteps.

January, 1998

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