Norma Williams 1928-2017
Competitive sport occasionally finds individuals that transcend sport. People whose contribution is bigger than the games they played. The world’s best example is, of course, Mohammed Ali. The influence of Sir Colin Meads and Sir Brian Lahore is bigger than rugby. And the contribution of Sir Peter Snell is far greater than running two laps around Lancaster Park. Some, like Mohammed Ali, spread their influence in a loud, very public way. Others like Peter Snell are just as effective but in a far more private manner. The title of Snell’s book, “No Bugles No Drums” reflects his quiet role.
On Tuesday of this week swimming lost a sportswoman who transcended swimming when Norma Williams MBE died. Her life journey through the sport of swimming could just as easily been titled “No Bugles No Drums”.
Norma was born in Auckland in 1928. She represented New Zealand at the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland. She won a silver medal as part of the women’s 440 yard freestyle relay and placed fifth in the 110 yard freestyle individual event. She won six national swimming titles: the 400 yards women's medley in 1948, 1949 and 1950; and the 100 yards women's butterfly in 1949, 1950 and 1951.
In 1952 Norma married Clifford Williams. They had three children. But family life did not end Norma’s contribution to swimming. She was appointed chaperone to the New Zealand team at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, and was a national swimming selector from 1978. She also served as the president of the Auckland Amateur Sports Association.
Williams' book, Between the Lanes, was published in 1996 and describes the development of competitive swimming in New Zealand. She also wrote histories to mark the centennials of the New Zealand Swimming Federation in 1990 and the Auckland Swimming Association in 2006. In the 1977 New Year Honors Norma was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to swimming.
But the races won and positions held are not the full story. Her principal contribution was her character; the example she set. Maori have a word for it. Norma Williams had mana. She was a senior official in the late 1960s when we were misbehaving around swimming pools. But none of us crossed Norma Williams. Not because she was aggressive or frightening. We behaved out of respect for all that is good in a sport and a person.
Thank you Norma. You have left a sport in New Zealand that is the better for your presence. Many of us, who have enjoyed a career in swimming and those about to begin their journey, have much to thank you for.
Kia Kaha David Wright