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Remembering A Grande Dame of New England Masters

Masters swimming was her great joy

Stephanie Walsh | July 19, 2000

The Grande Dame of New England Masters is dead. After a year-long bout with leukemia and finally with pneumonia, Doris Hogan will no longer be seen on pool decks and in swimming pools across the country and the world, spreading the good word on the value of swimming as a lifetime activity.

Born in Springfield, Mass., in 1900, Doris started swimming at age 13 and won her first swimming cup in a race in the Connecticut River in 1915. In 1918 Doris won the women's 100-yard race in a swimming carnival held in the Riverside pool in Springfield. Featured at the carnival were a touring group of Hawaiian champions, including Duke Kahanomoku. The group's manager said of Doris, "She has a bright future ahead of her if she sticks to the water sport.” She did, and he was right.

When asked in 1977 whether she could shed some light on the beginnings of women's collegiate swimming, Doris was quick to say, "Not only can I tell you about it, I participated as a swimmer, diver, and manager in the first meet." The occasion of the first women's intercollegiate swim meet ever was in 1922, at the Cambridge YMCA, when Doris was a junior at Sargent College, now part of Boston University. The opponent was Radcliffe College, their Cambridge neighbors at the time. Curt Gowdy interviewed Doris about the meet on radio not too long ago and hailed her "paving the way" for thousands of women now active in swimming.

Doris went on to graduate from Sargent (where she was affectionately known as "Fitzy") in 1923 with a degree in physical education. In 1978 her alma mater awarded her the Twin S Award, the highest alumnae award for service to the college, and in 1981 she received the Sargent Spirit Award for service to her profession.

After graduation Doris became the first woman supervisor of physical education in the Alexandria, Va., school system.

It was in 1973 that Masters Swimming first attracted Doris' interest, and this would remain her greatest joy until her death. She arrived at a meet at the Medford High School pool with a friend who had casually suggested that she bring her suit along. It was only after she arrived that she realized that she was meant to be a participant in the meet rather than just a spectator!

We shall never forget Doris waving to her fans as she swam freestyle down Brown's pool, doing a racing dive for every race, saying that "there wouldn't be starting blocks if we weren't meant to use them," answering the cheers of those urging her to keep going in a breaststroke race by saying at each breath, "I'm trying, I'm trying," wearing her yellow terry-cloth sundress with her "All-American" patch displayed proudly on the front, her toenails painted red and showing brightly in her flip flops on the deck, her hugs of good luck wishes and congratulations, her work on the book about swimming and its lifelong benefits that now must be finished without her, her giggle that one could see all over her face, her pointed finger as she made a point to someone who was always much taller, her many ribbons, just about all of them blue, with every event, date, time, and place written carefully on them, her national records in both the 75-79 and 80-84 age groups, her team suit, her loyalty to New England Masters, despite her move to Connecticut three years ago and her friendship with so many wonderful Masters swimmers there, her long-range planning for nationals, where she was always a big hit with everyone, her continual thirst for knowledge, coaching and assistance—anything that might help her perform better, her support of all swimmers everywhere, most recently of Sharon Beckman in her successful English Channel attempt, her fitting in so well with any age group: Masters swimmers, their children, their grandchildren, and their parents (the latter she'd try to talk into joining her in the pool), her phone calls and letters to follow up a conversation at poolside or to plan a trip to a future meet, her loving to be the center of attention, which she always was. We saw her on "Evening Magazine" in 1978, a show which inspired hundreds of adults in New England to get into the swim, no matter what their age, with Curt Gowdy on radio, discussing that first meet in 1922, on various local TV and news programs, the most recent in Providence in August of 1981, when she swam in the annual meet at Brown. She was also the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and even Morocco, where she went to visit her daughter and her family. The press dubbed her "the Swimming Grandmother."

Yes, she was a grandmother of nine, and the mother of four, one of whom, Trish, is a New England Masters swimmer herself, due in large part to her mother's prodding a few years ago.

Doris was also an active community leader, a physical education teacher for many years in Virginia and Massachusetts school systems, and a teacher to all who came to her for direction, even at Brown last summer, where she gave back floating lessons to Jack Geoghegan's young son in the warm-up area.

Swimming was so important to Doris that her family has asked that donations be sent to the New England-Connecticut Masters Swim Memorial, which will be set up in her name.

Doris will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of all who knew her and many who could only share vicariously the joy of swimming throughout her lifetime. The New England Masters Swim Club recognized Doris's contributions to swimming and inspiration to all last April (1982) at the Harvard meet. All future New England short course championships will bear her name.

Yes, we have lost a valuable swimmer, a funny lady, a pioneer who never stopped leading the way. For whom but Doris would the funeral recessional be the Sargent College March (which, by coincidence, is also the Connecticut March)? We have truly lost a friend. In her final tape, given to me while she lay on her deathbed, she ends with "Happy days, my dear." We wish her the same.

 

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