The Titanic survivor who opposed the doctors’ decision to amputate his legs and went on to become a tennis champion

 
Richard Williams
 
 
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Richard “Dick” Norris Williams II was born in 1891 and was an American tennis player. He was also famous for surviving the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Williams’ father Charles Duane Williams was an American lawyer, one of the founders of International Tennis Federation, and a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin who lived in Geneva where Richard was born. So, it wasn’t a surprise that Richard began tennis training when he was twelve. He was privately schooled and was fluent in German and French.

American Tennis Player Richard Noris Williams II
American Tennis Player Richard Noris Williams II

At the age of twenty, Richard won the Swiss Championship and a year later he enrolled in the University of Harvard and became the intercollegiate tennis champion in singles in 1913 and 1915, and doubles in 1914 and 1915. He gained fame after his two men’s singles titles at the U.S. Championships in 1914 and 1916. And his doubles were also as good as his singles – in 1925 and 1926 he was on the American Davis Cup team.

Richard Norris Williams II
Richard Norris Williams II

In a meantime, in 1912 Richard was visiting his father in Geneva and together they headed to the States. They traveled first class on the RMS Titanic. If anyone can recall a scene from James Cameron’s “Titanic” when a steward threatens Jack with fining him for damaging White Star Line property while Jack was freeing a trapped passenger, it was inspired by a real event on the Titanic when Richard helped a fellow passenger.

As the Titanic began to sink, Richard and his father Charles remained on it until the last moment. Suddenly both men were swimming in the cold waters of the ocean and while in the water, Richard saw the first class passenger Robert W. Daniels’ prize bulldog Gamon de Pycombe. But he couldn’t see his father anymore.

RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic

Despite the fact that he knew his father had been crushed by the forward funnel, Richard continued swimming to the lifeboats until he got to lifeboat 14. Even after he got on the boat, he spent hours with his legs in the freezing water which caused them to become frostbitten. When the Carpathia’s doctor saw him, he wanted to amputate Richard’s legs but Richard opposed the doctor’s decision.

He got up on his legs and tirelessly worked to get back in shape. He loved tennis and didn’t want to give up his tennis career. He exercised every two hours just by standing and walking on his legs, regardless of how painful it was. At the end, he managed not only to recover his legs but to get back in shape and continue with his tennis career. He went on to win many championships. He also won the Davis Cup with fellow survivor Karl Behr.

Williams in 1916 at his match against William M. Johnston
Williams in 1916 at his match against William M. Johnston

Besides his successful tennis career, Richard served  in the United States Army during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. After the end of the war, he continued playing championship tennis.

We have another Titanic-related story:The sinking of the RMS Titanic’s younger sister, the Britannic

He was also a noted Philadelphia investment banker and President of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He died in 1968 at the age of 77.