Elizabeth Philcox-Voss Dies -- May 24, 2003
PALM CITY, Fla, May 24. Elizabeth "Betty" Philcox-Voss, a Norwalk native whose contribution to women's swimming at the local, state, national and international levels had no peer, died May 16 in Palm City, Fla. She was 95.
Mrs. Philcox-Voss had been honored at all levels of swimming, but the jewel in her crown had been designation in 2001 as a Grand Dame of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The citation read in part: "She has accepted challenges and assignments normally taken by men, and as an ISHOF Grand Dame she is untouchable." "I was quite surprised by that," she said after the ceremony. "It's nice to be remembered after all these years." The contribution of Mrs. Philcox-Voss to the sport came principally as a coach, manager and administrator, since women's swimming competition hardly existed when she was in her prime.
Starting with the creation of the Norwalk YMCA girls swim team in 1942, when she was the salaried director of the Women and Girls Department, she moved through the ranks of the National Amateur Athletic Association to become the sole woman among 44 men on its Executive and Foreign Relations Committee. She also served five years as chairman of the prestigious National AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy Committee, an experience that in 1965 allowed her to make the presentation to Princeton graduate and future New York Knick great Bill Bradley, later to be U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
Earlier, Mrs. Philcox-Voss had become the first woman president of an AAU association when she headed the Connecticut section before eventually serving on National AAU committees governing Women's Swimming, Progress Awards (chairman), Swimming Rules (23 years), Olympic Women's Swimming and Diving (12 years) and as a director of U.S. Swimming and chairperson of its Region 1 Committee.
A highlight of her years in swimming was managing and chaperoning the U.S. Olympic women's swimming and diving team at the Tokyo games in 1964.
"That was very exciting," she said upon her return.
Four years later, she was the U.S. representative as official timer of swimming events at the Mexico City Olympic games. She also attended the Munich Olympics in 1972 as an unofficial observer. Between 1947 and 1984, she officiated at all AAU and U.S. Swimming national championships, including 10 U.S. Olympic swimming trials. Such work brought her the National AAU Ken Pettigrew Award for officiating. Mrs. Philcox-Voss was team manager of U.S. national swimmers on trips to Australia, Peru, Venezuela, the Soviet Union, Jamaica, Trinidad, Uruguay and Germany. As coach of the Norwalk YMCA girls swim team for 42 years until 1984, all but the first seven as a volunteer, she had been age group coach for 10 All-Star teams traveling to Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Virginia and New Mexico. "I was more interested in working with the girls than the money," she had said. She was enlisted to coach the Norwalk High School girls swim team when it was inaugurated in 1975, four years after the new facility was completed in 1971 and its 25-yard indoor pool had opened sometime afterward. Known as "Betty's Bears," the team won the FCIAC title its second year and the state Class LL title the third year. She retired after the fifth year, but not before being named Connecticut High School Swimming Coach of the Year in 1978.
"I've had some excellent talent to work with," she said at the time. "Many of the same girls swam for me when they were little kids on the YMCA team." Years before, her late first husband, George Stanley Philcox, a carpenter by trade and builder by occupation, had constructed a bulkhead and 50-yard pool in the lagoon behind their home in Norport Drive. It had allowed the girls to swim at distances previously beyond their reach and immediately thereafter they had begun winning titles at the state, regional and national levels. In 1977, she had created the Norwalk Aquatic team to allow girls to swim throughout the year. The daughter of the late Ellis H. Taylor, an auto mechanic, and the late Helen Bell Taylor, Mrs. Philcox-Voss had developed an affinity for salt water very early and by the age of six was swimming three times a day. "I was inspired as a teenager by the English Channel crossing of Gertrude Ederle, and I wanted to do it, too," she once recalled. While she never reached the channel, she swam long distances and was the first woman to swim out to Peck's Ledge Lighthouse and back, a two-and-a-half-hour exercise. Although not directly the coach of Norwalk's only Olympic gold medal winner (Marie Corridon Mortell in 1948), Mrs. Philcox-Voss was credited by the champion with offering her good advice.
"She encouraged me whenever I worked out at the Norwalk Y," Mortell said in 1996, on the occasion of Mrs. Philcox-Voss' selection for the Norwalk High School Wall of Honor. "I thought so highly of her that I let her coach my own girls." Mortell attended the Wall of Honor dinner with her daughters, all of whom established strong ties to the honoree, a member of the NHS Class of 1926. Mrs. Philcox-Voss had also been the first woman honored by the Norwalk Oldtimers Athletic Association, the award coming at its 12th awards banquet in 1974.
Although of early middle age when a young Hollywood starlet of the same maiden name (Elizabeth Taylor) caught the public eye, Mrs. Philcox-Voss' own winsome beauty remained unchallenged. A year-round Floridian since 1994, after only wintering over for several years, Mrs. Philcox-Voss had lived alone after the 1993 death of her second husband, Richard Voss of Norwalk, following seven years of marriage. She had been widowed the first time in 1977 after 47 years of marriage.
Her spirit remained sprightly throughout her life and she greatly enjoyed her birthday celebration the day before her death. "It was so typical of her to wait until after her birthday," said her daughter-in-law, Carla Lundberg Philcox.
Mrs. Philcox-Voss is also survived by a son, Terry Philcox, and a daughter, Anne Philcox Corrente, both of East Norwalk; five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. June 1 in the East Avenue United Methodist Church with the Rev. Amy Gregory, pastor, officiating. Interment will be private.
Memorial donations may be made to the Norwalk YMCA, 370 West Ave., Norwalk, 06850.