Remembering Frank Tillotson
A long, warm and wonderful Masters career
U.S. Masters swimming lost one of its venerated, long-time members last weekend. Frank Tillotson, 94, passed away Saturday, June 6th, 2009, after being admitted to the Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Fla. about a week earlier. Several of his close friends and teammates from the Florida Maverick Masters were with him during the week. Paul Hutinger, Margie Huntinger, Steve Everhart, and John Sampedro visited him on Thursday and Friday. Margie Huntinger shares, "I think he went peacefully, in his sleep. We were there the day before and when I held his hand, he was unable to speak but I am sure he knew we were there."
Hutinger has written about Tillotson and the early days of Masters swimming in St. Petersburg. Her article, "The Storyteller," co-written with Meegan Wilson in 1997, can be viewed here on our website. An oral history of the early days of Masters swimming, submitted by Tillotson himself can also be found in the USMS.org archives.
Tillotson had many friends in many places in the Masters swimming world. Cav Cavanaugh and Debbie Cavanaugh of the Gold Coast Masters in Ft. Lauderdale remember a "genuine gentleman; kind and generous, always had a smile on his face and kind words to say about everyone." Cav Cavanaugh adds, "Frank is an inspiration to all us older guys, he stayed in the water as long as he could and kept right on swimming." Joanne Tingly of Kentucky Masters, who used to run the registration desk at nationals remembers Tillotson, who often volunteered to help her at the desk, as "such a sweet guy, always willing to help."
Tillotson was known for his generosity of time and spirit by swimmers in Romania as well, where he helped raised funds to repair a defunct swimming pool in an impoverished area of the country. His friend and contact in Romania, Vasile Pop, a Romanian swimmer and coach, expressed his condolences in a recent email to the Maverick Masters: "He was a very nice person, and all people who met him were impressed by his kindness. All the Romanian people who knew him send our sympathy and condolences to his family and his good friends in Maverick Masters."
"The Story Teller"
Frank Tillotson 's early swimming was in the Atlantic Ocean, off of Long Island, New York. After farm work, they would swim a bit, if it was calm, and they were never bothered by sharks.
In the spring of 1936, Frank ventured into the Old Armory pool at Cornell University, and was asked if he wanted to learn to swim. Frank said, "Sure". He was told to lie on his back, pull with his arms over his head, and kick. He did this for ten days, unnoticed. Then, from April until June, he had lessons. Coach Scotty Little, assured him the ocean would not do for summer swimming, but, Noyac Bay across the island, would. As often as possible, Frank drove the eight miles after work, and swam from a dock to the beach, 1.25 miles round trip. Once, about a half mile from shore, he kicked a shark. Luckily, the shark swam away in disgust! Returning to Cornell in the fall as the only backstroker, he swam on the team until he graduated in the spring of 1939.
For many years, he was busy with work and family and had no access to a pool. He moved to Tampa, Fla., in 1959 and then to St.Petersburg, Fla., in 1964. In the fall of 1973 Frank tested the waters at the North Shore Pool, and shortly thereafter, he was asked to join the St. Petersburg Recreation Department AAU Masters team, because, "We're having a meet at the Lido Pool in Sarasota." He drove in a fall fog to the meet, and recalls some of the early St. Pete swimmers: John Risher, Gene and Mims (first SPM woman) Jennings, Charlie Dunworth, the Augustines, Bob Beach, Gene Nagel, and Snag Holmes from Jupiter. That was the start of over 400 Masters swims—some memorable; some not.
By 1979 Frank was president, captain of the 55+ age group, and newsletter editor for the St. Petersburg Masters Swimming Organization. Under his leadership the team developed into one that is competitive both nationally and internationally. During this time, Frank spent many hours organizing and coordinating Masters swim meets. In 1983 he was nominated as Volunteer of the Month of the City of St. Petersburg, where he was currently a member of the City's Budget Review Committee.
Frank served on the Board of Directors of the Florida LMSC as newsletter editor from 1984 to 1994. He served on the USMS Zone committee and was Dixie Zone Chairman from 1987 to 1991, and he continues to serve on the USMS Legislation Committee since 1984.
He has competed in over twenty international meets, and because he always returns with great stories, Carl House has dubbed him `The Story Teller.' His first big away venture, was with Ernie Brisco in 1984. They flew to Australia, and swam at a covered outdoor pool, whose roof leaked when it rained. Frank won the third place men's award. Afterwards, they swam in an informal meet in Cairns and later, competing at the "First Unofficial World Masters Championships" in Christchurch, New Zealand, they both fared very well.
In 1986, he was the first person in his age group to swim the 200-SCM fly (5:26.33) setting a world record in the process. He received another All-American status that same year in the 400-SCM IM. (9:32.37).
Besides competing in the second World Championship in Brisbane in 1988 and the third World Championship in Rio de Janiro in 1990, Frank drove across the "Great Red Desert" with friends to the 1993 Australian National Championships in Darwin. Darwin is a beautifully green, modern city, with four 50-meter pools. To fend off some of the equatorial sun, sails flew over the 50-meter competition pool. The meet was attended by about 400 natives, with few visitors; the only other U.S. swimmer besides Frank was Scott Yoemans, a fellow Cornell alum, from New Jersey. "We each won our High Point Award" Frank said.
In March 1995, the site of the 11th National South African Masters Championships was in Nelspruit, about a two hours drive from the Indian Ocean. Nelspruit is the center of a large agricultural area, producing bananas, macadamia nuts, cabbage, apples and "roasted worms." He and Graham Johnston absolutely refused to sample the worms. Eventually, all good pools seem familiar, but the RSA custom of having your beer where you will, smoking on deck, and the tight marshaling, were a bit unusual. Frank won the three backstroke events, and Graham set all new records. They had a great time after the meet at a real banquet, dance and party. The "Big Animal Park" (Kruger Park) and a visit to Victoria Falls and the Cape of Good Hope were highlights of a FUN trip.
His best place to swim is at Koron Beach (nee Crystal Beach), Phuket Island, Thailand. "There," Frank said, "living is inexpensive, and the clean, sandy beach is at your doorstep. The crystal, clear water is 80 degrees F, and you can see through the breaking seas. This is heaven afloat!"
Frank became an All-American again in 1995 in the 100-SCM fly, however he claims that that was an error. "It was a time misplaced with the fly," he says. "It was a 100 IM time in Orlando. When I saw it published I notified everyone possible that it was a mistake, obviously to no avail." Frank is still competitive in the 80-84 age group and has swum on relay teams that currently hold several national records.
About twenty years ago, after timing for the local USS swim club, Frank was asked to become an official. He became a certified stroke and turn judge, and before long, worked up to the USS classification of "Certified National Championship" Swimming Official. He has worked at high school, YMCA, USMS, USS meets, Junior and Senior Nationals and the 1992 Olympic Trials. Because of Frank's outstanding performance as a meet official, he received the Fred Cruciger Award for 1996. This award is given to an official, nominated by the Officials Committee of Florida Swimming, who has been available when needed and who has been dedicated to the betterment of the sport of swimming.
"Swim in good health."
Frank H. Tillotson lived in Saint Petersburg, Fla., and swam for the Florida Mavericks Swim Team.
With contributions from Meegan Wilson - 1997