Passages: Zimbabwe’s Frank Parrington, 85

By Glen Byrom, Swimming World African correspondent

HARARE, Zimbabwe, July 15. FRANK Parrington, affectionately known as Mr. P and the doyen of Zimbabwe swimming, has died at the age of 85. He passed away at home in Harare on Tuesday night (13 July) (2010) after suffering kidney and heart failure following a recent leg amputation. He is survived by his son David, who is a leading diving coach at the University of Tennessee , and who arrived in Harare just five hours before his father passed away.

This year the Liverpool-born Mr. P celebrated an astonishing 80 active years in swimming and on his 85th birthday on 5 June this year he remembered his first gala with total clarity. It was the day his Dad broke an official aquatic world record, for an unlikely event called The Plunge.

Mr. P has left a rich legacy as Africa's guru of swimming and he has lived in Zimbabwe and South Africa for more than 50 years.

On his recent birthday many friends and swimmers gathered to reflect on his formidable achievements – surely of Guinness Book of Records proportions for 80 active and unbroken years of service to swimming – including the fostering of several notable champions.

"I learnt to swim at the age of five and I have been mad on swimming ever since," he recalled. "My introduction to coaching was as an eight-year-old when I used to help my Dad as a plunger. My first gala, at the age of eight, was when he set the world record on 23 September 1933 at the Bootle Baths in Liverpool. I came third in a two-length handicap and got a fountain pen as a prize."

His father, Francis Winder Parrington, was Long Plunge champion of England from 1926 to 1939 and won it 11 times. His world record of 86ft. 8in. was never beaten and, as the event is now obsolete, it will stand in perpetuity. The last English championships took place at Brighton in 1946 and were the first and only after World War 2.

The Plunge required a standing take-off at deck level and then floating motionless with arms extended. The distance was purely from the power and impetus of the take-off. For his world record, Francis Parrington was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1985, more than 50 years after the achievement. He was wounded twice in World War 2 and killed during the War in Banbury, Liverpool, as a member of the Liverpool City Police Force.

Son Frank (born Francis Ward Parrington in Liverpool) was a member of the British Olympic swimming squad in 1948 as was his girlfriend, Lillian Preece.

"We started dating in 1947 and we were married in March 1948," he said on his birthday. "We had to break our honeymoon to go to the final Olympic trials at Loughborough. She won the 100 metres freestyle trials and made the team, but I didn't."

Lilian reached the semifinals at the Wembley Olympics and then, coached by husband Frank, was captain of the England team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, before retiring in 1954 and also turning to coaching.

Their African experience started in 1959. "I was manager of a pool in Manchester," said Frank, "but it had crowded facilities, there were housing shortages, and we liked the idea of sunshine, open spaces and the pioneering spirit.

"The Hodgkinson family from Zambia showed me some cine films of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and then there was an ad in the local paper seeking a manager for a new pool at Mabelreign in Salisbury (now Harare)….I got the job without even being interviewed and we sold and came."

The Parringtons arrived in Harare on February 23, 1959, and he remembered looking out of the plane window at 07h45 on landing and thinking that it would still be dark in England. "It was good to be in the sunshine and light and we never ever thought of going back."

During his time in Zimbabwe, Frank founded three swimming clubs, including Mabelreign in 1959 with 400 members. Then came Mount Pleasant (1968) and Spartans in 2005, Zimbabwe's champion club from the moment it was born.

The birthday messages of goodwill that flowed from a stream of his former swimmers around the globe were testimony to Mr. P's status and respect as a high calibre coach. African champions he coached include the formidable butterfly trio of John Keyter, Guy Goosen and David Lowe. Eight have been Olympians.

Lillian Parrington died in Harare in July 2004 and their son Marty, a South African international water polo player, passed away in Durban in 2003. Eldest son David Parrington (54) was a Zimbabwe diving champion and is now head diving coach at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is rated among the top dive coaches in the USA and was on the selection committee for the US team to the Beijing Olympics.

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