R. Norris Williams

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For other people named Richard Williams, see Richard Williams (disambiguation).
Richard Norris Williams
Richard Norris Williams.jpg
Full name Richard Norris Williams II
Country  United States
Born (1891-01-29)January 29, 1891
Geneva, Switzerland
Died June 2, 1968(1968-06-02) (aged 77)
Philadelphia, PA, USA
Plays Right-handed (one-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HOF 1957 (member page)
Highest ranking No. 2 (1916, Karoly Mazak)[1]
Grand Slam Singles results
Wimbledon SF (1924)
US Open W (1914, 1916)
Other tournaments
Olympic Games QF (1924)
Grand Slam Doubles results
Wimbledon W (1920)
US Open W (1925, 1926)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Wimbledon QF (1924)
US Open W (1912)
R. Norris Williams
Medal record
Men's tennis
Competitor for the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1924 Paris Mixed doubles
Williams in 1916 at his match against William M. Johnston

Richard "Dick" Norris Williams II (January 29, 1891 – June 2, 1968), generally known as R. Norris Williams, was an American tennis player.[2]


Richard Norris Williams II

Williams was born in Geneva, Switzerland, the son of Philadelphia parents Charles Duane Williams, a direct descendant from Benjamin Franklin, and Lydia Biddle White. He was tutored privately at a Swiss boarding school and spoke fluent French and German. He starting playing tennis at age 12, mainly under the guidance of his father.[3]

Tennis career[edit]

In 1911 Williams won the Swiss Championship.[3] A year later he entered Harvard and became the intercollegiate tennis champion in singles (1913, 1915) and doubles (1914, 1915).[4]

He is best known for his two men's singles titles at the U.S. Championships in 1914 and 1916.[5] He was also on the victorious American Davis Cup team twice: in 1925 and 1926 and was considered a fine doubles player.[6] He also had a reputation in singles of always hitting as hard as possible and always trying to hit winners near the lines. This made him an extremely erratic player, but when his game was sporadically "on", he was considered unbeatable.

Williams was ranked World No. 2 for 1916 by Karoly Mazak, and World No. 4 in 1923 by A. Wallis Myers of The Daily Telegraph.[1]

During the 1924 Olympics, at the age of 33 (and with a sprained ankle), Richard Norris Williams became a Gold Medalist in the mixed doubles, partnering Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. He went on to captain several winning Davis Cup teams from 1921 through 1926 as well as the 1934 team. At age 44 he retired from Championship Tennis.

He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) in 1957.

RMS Titanic[edit]

Williams also gained fame as being a survivor of the RMS Titanic disaster in April 1912. He and his father, Charles Duane Williams, were traveling first class on the liner when it struck an iceberg and sank. Shortly after the collision, Williams freed a trapped passenger from a cabin by breaking down a door. He was reprimanded by a steward, who threatened to fine him for damaging White Star Line property, an event that inspired a scene in James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic. Williams remained on the doomed liner almost until the very end. At one point Williams' father tried to get a steward to fill his flask. The flask was given to Norris Williams and remains in the Williams family.

After being washed overboard by a wave that also took off Colonel Archibald Gracie and Second Officer C. H. Lightoller, along with several others, the 21 year old Williams made his way to the Collapsible A Lifeboat holding on to its side for quite a while before getting in. When Williams entered the water he was wearing a fur coat which he quickly discarded along with his shoes. Those in Collapsible A who survived were transferred to Lifeboat 14 by Fifth Officer Lowe. Although abandoned by the Carpathia, Collapsible A was recovered a month later. Amazingly, on board the lifeboat was the discarded fur coat which was returned to Williams by White Star.[7]

Even after entering the lifeboat he spent several hours knee-deep in freezing water. RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene to rescue survivors. His father was lost in the disaster. The ordeal left his legs so severely frostbitten that the Carpathia's doctor wanted to amputate them. Williams, who did not want his tennis career to be cut short, opted instead to work through the injury by simply getting up and walking around every two hours, around the clock. The choice worked out well for him: later that year, he won his first U.S. Tennis Championship, in mixed doubles, and went on to win many more championships. He also won the Davis Cup with fellow survivor Karl Behr.

Williams served in the United States Army during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. After the war he continued playing championship tennis.

Williams, a noted Philadelphia investment banker, was President of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

It was not until after the publication of A Night to Remember, a 1955 book about the Titanic disaster, that Williams became acquainted with its author Walter Lord. In 1962, Williams met with Lord and gave a detailed account of the sinking. Although it has been reported that his father, among others, was crushed by the falling forward smokestack, and that he barely escaped that fate, Williams does not mention that in his talk with Lord.

Richard Norris Williams died of emphysema on June 2, 1968, aged 77 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.[2][8]

Grand Slam finals[edit]

Singles: 3 (2 titles, 1 runner-up)[edit]

Outcome Year Tournament Opponent Score
Runner-up 1913 U.S. Championships United States Maurice McLoughlin 4–6, 7–5, 3–6, 1–6
Winner 1914 U.S. Championships United States Maurice McLoughlin 6–3, 8–6, 10–8
Winner 1916 U.S. Championships United States William Johnston 4–6, 6–4, 0–6, 6–2, 6–4

Doubles: 7 (3 titles, 4 runner-ups)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Partner Opponents Score
Winner 1920 Wimbledon United States Chuck Garland United Kingdom Algernon Kingscote
Republic of Ireland James Cecil Parke
4–6, 6–4, 7–5, 6–2
Runner-up 1921 U.S. Championships United States Watson Washburn United States Vincent Richards
United States Bill Tilden
11–13, 10–12, 1–6
Runner-up 1923 U.S. Championships United States Watson Washburn United Kingdom Brian Norton
United States Bill Tilden
6–3, 2–6, 3–6, 7–5, 2–6
Runner-up 1924 Wimbledon United States Watson Washburn United States Frank Hunter
United States Vincent Richards
3–6, 6–3, 10–8, 6–8, 3–6
Winner 1925 U.S. Championships United States Vincent Richards United States Gerald Patterson
United States Jack Hawkes
6–2, 8–10, 6–4, 11–9
Winner 1926 U.S. Championships United States Vincent Richards United States Bill Tilden
United States Alfred Chapin
6–4, 6–8, 11–9, 6–3
Runner-up 1927 U.S. Championships United States Bill Johnston United States Frank Hunter
United States Bill Tilden
8–10, 3–6, 3–6

Mixed doubles: 1 (1 title)[edit]

Outcome Year Championship Partner Opponents Score
Winner 1912 U.S. Championships United States Mary Kendall Browne United States Eleonora Sears
United States William Clothier
6–4, 2–6, 11–9


  1. ^ a b Mazak, Karoly (2010). The Concise History of Tennis, p. 44.
  2. ^ a b "R. Norris Williams 2d, Tennis Titlist, Dead at 77. Survivor of Titanic's Sinking Was on 7 Davis Cup Teams. Pennsylvania Historian". New York Times. June 4, 1968. Retrieved November 28, 2012. R. Norris Williams 2d, former national tennis champion and a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic, died. yesterday in Bryn Mawr ... 
  3. ^ a b Baltzell, E. Digby (1995). Sporting Gentlemen : Men's Tennis from the Age of Honor to the Cult of the Superstar. New York [u.a.]: Free Press. pp. 92, 93. ISBN 0029013151. 
  4. ^ "History of the Ivy League". Council of Ivy League Presidents. Retrieved May 10, 2012. 
  5. ^ Collins, Bud (2010). The Bud Collins History of Tennis (2nd ed. ed.). [New York]: New Chapter Press. p. 457. ISBN 978-0942257700. 
  6. ^ "Tennis Hall of Fame – Richard N. Williams III". International Tennis Hall of Fame. Retrieved May 10, 2012. 
  7. ^ Colonel Archibald Gracie – The Truth About The Titanic (1913), New York, Mitchell Kennerley
  8. ^ "One Ship, Two Men, 1,517 Deaths". USTA. March 26, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 

External links[edit]