Richard Norris Williams
Richard Norris Williams.jpg
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, Pennsylvania, United States
PlaysRight-handed (one-handed backhand)
Int. Tennis HoF1957 (member page)
Career record77–23
Highest rankingNo. 2 (1916, ITHF)[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 in 1916 at his match against Bill Johnston
Williams in 1916 at his match against Bill Johnston

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 II
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 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 had 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.

Tennis career

In 1911 Williams won the Swiss Championship.[3] A year later he entered Harvard University 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.[1] 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. New York Times tennis writer Allison Danzig claimed that Williams had “one of the most daring attacks tennis had seen. He never played safe. He stood in close, took the ball on the rise, often on the half volley, and played for the lines.”[7] “At his best he was unbeatable, and more dazzling than Tilden."[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.[8] 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.

As Titanic began her final plunge, father and son jumped into the water. While Dick was able to save himself, his father was killed by the first funnel falling from the ship.[9] The 21-year-old Williams recalled, "I saw one of the four great funnels come crashing down on top of him. Just for one instant I stood there transfixed – not because it had only missed me by a few feet … curiously enough not because it had killed my father for whom I had a far more than normal feeling of love and attachment; but there I was transfixed wondering at the enormous size of this funnel, still belching smoke. It seemed to me that two cars could have been driven through it side by side." He 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 Collapsible Boat D, which reached RMS Carpathia. 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.[10]

After entering the lifeboat, he spent several hours knee-deep in the freezing water. Carpathia arrived on the scene to rescue survivors. 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.

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.[11] After the war, he continued playing championship tennis.

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


R. Norris Williams Tombstone in St. David's Episcopal Church graveyard
R. Norris Williams Tombstone in St. David's Episcopal Church graveyard

Richard Norris Williams died of emphysema on June 2, 1968, aged 77, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.[2][12] He was interred at St. David's Episcopal Church in Radnor, Pennsylvania.[13]

Grand Slam finals

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

Result Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Loss 1913 U.S. National Championships Grass United States Maurice McLoughlin 4–6, 7–5, 3–6, 1–6
Win 1914 U.S. National Championships Grass United States Maurice McLoughlin 6–3, 8–6, 10–8
Win 1916 U.S. National Championships Grass United States Bill Johnston 4–6, 6–4, 0–6, 6–2, 6–4

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

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

Mixed doubles: 1 title

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Win 1912 U.S. National Championships Grass United States Mary Browne United States Eleonora Sears
United States Bill Clothier
6–4, 2–6, 11–9


  1. ^ a b c International Tennis Hall of Fame Profile
  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. Archived from the original on October 30, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2012.
  5. ^ Talbert, Bill (1967). Tennis Observed. Boston: Barre Publishers. p. 92. OCLC 172306.
  6. ^ Collins, Bud (2010). The Bud Collins History of Tennis (2nd ed.). [New York]: New Chapter Press. p. 457. ISBN 978-0942257700.
  7. ^ "July 21, 1924: The day Titanic survivor Dick Williams won Olympic gold". Tennis Majors. July 21, 2021.
  8. ^ "R. Norris Williams". Olympedia. Retrieved November 21, 2021.
  9. ^ "Charles Duane Williams". Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  10. ^ Colonel Archibald Gracie – The Truth About The Titanic (1913), New York, Mitchell Kennerley
  11. ^ Grasso, John (2011). Historical Dictionary of Tennis. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 305. ISBN 9780810872370.
  12. ^ "One Ship, Two Men, 1,517 Deaths". USTA. March 26, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
  13. ^ "About St. David's". St. David's Episcopal Church. Retrieved August 9, 2022.