Updated: Jan 28
Nancy Brown, who spent her life sharing her love of swimming as a coach and mentor to thousands, died Wednesday evening (January 1, 2020) at her home in Pasadena. She was 83 years old.
She started teaching swimming to Baltimore-area summer camp kids when she was 16 years old and kept it up until retiring from coaching five years ago.
In 1974, she helped start a Maryland Masters swimming club in Catonsville under the auspices of the U.S. Masters Swimming. She started another group when she moved to Anne Arundel County in 1986, teaching and coaching adults from 18 to 90 years old.
“Nancy (was) a constant cheerleader, encouraging, supporting, coaxing, and in all ways possible, promoting Master’s swimming and instilling enthusiasm for the sport,” said fellow USMS swimmer Kristina Henry, who nominated Brown for U.S. Masters Swimming’s Dorothy Donnelly Service Award in 2015, which Brown won.
“Our mother was truly the definition of love and kindness,” said her daughter, Jill Springer. “She gave of herself so generously not only to her large family that she cherished but to countless friends whose lives, many have told me, are richer for having known her. Personally, she was my best friend and mentor who sparked a joy of swimming and coaching for which I am forever grateful.”
Nancy Brown took to the water early, swimming in the Magothy River at her grandmother’s house. She would go all day and earned the nickname “Water Rat.” She got into competitive swimming in high school at the Friends School in Baltimore. She captained the team in 1953 and 1954.
But she did not compete again until she formed the Maryland Masters with a handful of others at the Catonsville YMCA in 1974. Then, in 1986, she formed a master’s group at the Severna Park Community Center. She led that team to 10 YMCA Masters Nationals championships, and numerous top-three finishes in women’s, men’s and combined team categories.
Brown was also instrumental in running swimming events in the Maryland Senior Olympics in which she also competed. She also swam and set records in the National Senior Olympics.
While leading teams and coaching she also amassed an impressive 833 individual USMS national top 10 rankings plus 32 USMS All-American honors for posting the fastest time in at least one event in a given year.
She set the world record in the 100 meters short course backstroke in 1991, the same year she was recognized in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section.
When she moved up to the 70-74 age bracket in 2006 she was as determined as ever. That year she had 44 number one rankings while setting six USMS records and nine YMCA national records. That same year she competed in the FINA World Championships at Stanford University, winning the 200-meter backstroke and landing 2nd and 3rd place finishes as well.
Brown’s determination and dedication to her sport was tested in 2011 when she was diagnosed with a rare abdominal cancer. She continued to compete, setting four national records before an extensive 10-hour surgery. She was back at the Nationals in Fort Lauderdale in April 2012, the same year she was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame.
Brown credited her life long swimming regimen for saving her life.
“Swimming was a lifesaver for me,” she told the Severna Park Voice in 2015. “It’s incredible what exercise can do to get you through something like that. Physically and emotionally, I can’t say enough for it.”
On top of all the practice, competition, and work in and around the pool, Brown insisted on making the Masters more than that. She organized social get-togethers during the holidays or around award ceremonies.
“I began swimming for health and fitness but very much appreciate that Nancy made socializing a big part of the program,” said Jack Iliff from the Severna Park masters group. “Meeting and talking to other swimmers and having parties is great fun.”
She continued coaching and competing through rounds of chemotherapy until retiring from coaching in 2015.
Nancy Brown is survived by long-time companion Geoffrey Revett; daughters Jill Springer of Davidsonville, Wendy Bradford of Severna Park, Dori Krohn of Arnold; a sister, Susan Yohn of Grantville, Pa.; step-children Jeff Brown of Timonium; Jenny Seitz of San Diego, Calif.; Keith Brown of Round Hill, Va., and Scott Brown of Alexandria, Va.; 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her parents John D. and Margaret Lang; two husbands, Richard Whedbee and A. Douglas Brown; a daughter, Robin Whedbee Bond; step-daughter Elizabeth Brown and sister Esther Fulton.
Per her wishes, her body is being donated to science.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Mercy Medical Center Surgical Oncology Research — Dr. Armando Sardi.
Or send a check to:
Mercy Health Foundation, 301 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
Include Nancy Brown in the memo line
Or the Severna Park Community Center, https://www.spcommunitycenter.org/secure-online-donation.html
Or send a check to the center at 623 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. Severna Park, MD 21146.
Please use the comments section below to share a memory or short story about Nancy. You can use the team email address and password "Nancy" to login.