Tom Lamar is the unsung hero in the creation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and in helping to shape the young lives of the boys and girls who he taught and coached in swimming. Least we forget, here is Tom’s story.
He was born on June 20, 1917 in Meriwether County, Georgia and attended school in Hebbardville, a small mill town with a typical commissary operation. His fond childhood memories were Daddy taking him to the Okefenokee Swamp in the family motorcar for fishing, seeing huge alligators and tramping through the swamp. Other memories included K.K.K. demonstrations, parades, cross burnings, church and Sunday school. He was a great sports enthusiast playing baseball, football and basketball with a little swimming.
Tom’s father, worked for the Seaboard Railroad and the family lived in various places in Florida from Starke to Lake Worth, where he graduated from high school. He played Class D baseball in Alabama, worked at a bank in Jacksonville and held a job at United Fruit in New Orleans. After returning to Lake Worth, he became the beach Head Lifeguard, coached the high school swim team, volunteered for U.S. Coast Guard duty and served as the Lake Worth recreation director. All the while, he knew that a college education was necessary to keep improving. So it was on to the University of Miami in 1946, graduating Cum Laude in 16months and coaching the school’s first legitimate swimming team which went undefeated.
He then coached at Fort Lauderdale High School for six years before moving to Pine Crest School as coach. While in Fort Lauderdale, Tom went into public administration as assistant to the City Manager. In this role, he helped pass the bond issue, which provided the funds to dredge the Intracoastal Waterway and Bahia Mar to fill in the seawall, which is now the site of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
The site became State property and the State granted the rights allowing the Hall of Fame to be built and the City to build a swimming facility. Tom traveled to the 1962 AAU Convention in Detroit to lobby for Fort Lauderdale to become the selected city to host the Swimming Hall of Fame. Tom then moved on to Winter Park, Florida, where he taught junior high school and coached the Winter Park High School Swim Team. It was during this time that he received a U.S. State Department offer to travel to Iran as an advisor to their Athletic Association, instructing their swim coaches. He returned to Winter Park and retired a few years later in 1973, turning the program over to his assistant, Skip Foster, who continued to produce winning teams.
With 29 State Champion Teams, Tom is the second winningest high school coach in the nation. Only his pupil, Jack Nelson, has more with 30 wins. At the Lake Worth High School, his boys won State Championships in 1945 and 1947 and the girls in 1946. Eight years at Fort Lauderdale High School (1948-1955) saw both boys and girls championship, each of the years. At Pine Crest School, the girls won six successive years (1956-1961) and the boys won in 1957, ’58 and ’59. He had another Championship at Winter Park. As the first great Florida High School Swimming coach, Tom won State Championships at four different schools. He also coached the Winter Park YMCA, which placed second in 1972 at the swimming pool he helped establish- the Hall of Fame Pool.
After two years coaching at the University of Miami, Lamar was selected as the U.S Women’s Swimming Team Coach for the 1955 Pan American Games. Two of his swimmers, Carolyn Greene and Cynthia Gill competed on the team. Other swimmers included 1956 Olympian Jack Nelson, who succeeded Tom at Pine Crest School and Phil Drake, butterfly NCAA National Champion. Lamar has thousands of swimmers who tribute him as their reason for success.