R. Norris Williams

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

Richard Norris Williams
Full nameRichard Norris Williams II
Country (sports) United States
Born(1891-01-29)January 29, 1891
Geneva, Switzerland
DiedJune 2, 1968(1968-06-02) (aged 77)
Philadelphia, PA, United States
PlaysRight-handed (one-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF1957 (member page)
Career record77–23
Highest rankingNo. 2 (1916, Karoly Mazak)[1]
Grand Slam Singles results
WimbledonSF (1924)
US OpenW (1914, 1916)
Other tournaments
Olympic GamesQF (1924)
Grand Slam Doubles results
WimbledonW (1920)
US OpenW (1925, 1926)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
WimbledonQF (1924)
US OpenW (1912)


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 started playing tennis at age 12, mainly under the guidance of his father.[3]

On January 11, 1919 in Paris, France, Williams married Jean Haddock (1890–1929), daughter of Arthur Henry and Matilda (Stewart) Haddock. They would have four children. Jean died aged 38 on April 20, 1929 in Philadelphia. Williams remarried to Frances West Gillmore (1908–2001), daughter of Major General Quincy Adams Gillmore II and Frances West (Hemsley) Gillmore, on October 2, 1930. She was a great-granddaughter of Quincy Adams Gillmore. There were no children from this marriage.

Tennis career

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]

Williams is best known for his two men's singles titles at the U.S. Championships in 1914 (beating Maurice McLoughlin in the final)[5] and 1916 (beating Bill Johnston in the final).[6] He was also on the victorious American Davis Cup team twice: in 1925 and 1926 and was considered a fine doubles player.[7] 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

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 film Titanic (1997). 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 Williams and remains in the Williams family.

After being washed overboard by a wave that also took off Colonel Archibald Gracie and Second Officer Charles Lightoller, along with several others, the 21-year-old Williams made his way to the partially-submerged Collapsible A, holding onto 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 Harold Lowe. Although abandoned by RMS Carpathia, Collapsible A was recovered a month later. Onboard the lifeboat was the discarded fur coat which was returned to Williams by White Star.[8]

After entering the lifeboat, he spent several hours knee-deep in the freezing water. 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 including the Davis Cup with fellow survivor Karl Behr.

It was not until after the publication of A Night to Remember (1955), a 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.

Military service, business career, historical society

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


Richard Norris Williams died of emphysema on June 2, 1968, aged 77 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.[2][9]

Grand Slam finals

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

Result Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Loss1913U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Maurice McLoughlin4–6, 7–5, 3–6, 1–6
Win1914U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Maurice McLoughlin6–3, 8–6, 10–8
Win1916U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Bill Johnston4–6, 6–4, 0–6, 6–2, 6–4

Doubles: 7 (3 titles, 4 runners-up)

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Win1920WimbledonGrass Chuck Garland Algernon Kingscote
James Parke
4–6, 6–4, 7–5, 6–2
Loss1921U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Watson Washburn Vincent Richards
Bill Tilden
11–13, 10–12, 1–6
Loss1923U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Watson Washburn Brian Norton
Bill Tilden
6–3, 2–6, 3–6, 7–5, 2–6
Loss1924WimbledonGrass Watson Washburn Frank Hunter
Vincent Richards
3–6, 6–3, 10–8, 6–8, 3–6
Win1925U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Vincent Richards Gerald Patterson
John Hawkes
6–2, 8–10, 6–4, 11–9
Win1926U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Vincent Richards Bill Tilden
Alfred Chapin
6–4, 6–8, 11–9, 6–3
Loss1927U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Bill Johnston Frank Hunter
Bill Tilden
8–10, 3–6, 3–6

Mixed doubles: 1 title

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Win1912U.S. National ChampionshipsGrass Mary Browne Eleonora Sears
Bill Clothier
6–4, 2–6, 11–9


  1. Mazak, Karoly (2010). The Concise History of Tennis, p. 44.
  2. "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. 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. Archived from the original on October 30, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  5. "U. S. Open 1914". www.tennis.co.nf.
  6. Collins, Bud (2010). The Bud Collins History of Tennis (2nd ed.). [New York]: New Chapter Press. p. 457. ISBN 978-0942257700.
  7. "Tennis Hall of Fame – Richard N. Williams III". International Tennis Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on April 6, 2012. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  8. Colonel Archibald Gracie – The Truth About The Titanic (1913), New York, Mitchell Kennerley
  9. "One Ship, Two Men, 1,517 Deaths". USTA. March 26, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2012.

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