A skinny schoolgirl splashed across 25 yards of the municipal pool in 20.2 seconds to win the playground championship in Saskatoon. For Pat Lawson, aged 10, it was the first of dozens of titles in several sports in one of the most storied amateur athletic careers in Canadian history.
It should also be noted her time was nearly four seconds faster than the boy champion in the same age group.
Ms. Lawson, who has died at 89, embraced every sport she tried. She swam like a dolphin, ran like a rabbit, dove like a swan, skated like a demon. The first time she tried the strength event of shot-putting, she won the Canadian championship.
As an amateur speed-skater, she won the national championship title twice, in 1949 and 1954.
In tennis tournaments in her native province, she made a habit of winning a triple crown by capturing women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles.
As a basketball player, the sharpshooting and rebound-snagging Ms. Lawson won a national championship with the Vancouver Eilers in 1956 and the Saskatoon Aces in 1959, the same year in which she earned a spot with Canada’s team at the Pan-American Games at Chicago.
She took up golf at age 40, winning five senior women’s provincial titles, as well as two Canadian senior women’s titles with Team Saskatchewan.
After her playing days ended, she became a university basketball coach and later still a prominent administrator of sports organizations.
“I didn’t participate in sports for the recognition,” she told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in 1985, “but because of the fact I enjoyed it so much.”
Patricia Lawson was born in Saskatoon on Nov. 16, 1929, the first of two daughters born to English-immigrant parents, the former Irene Victoria Chater, born in Sunderland, and William Henry Lawson, born in Darlington. Mr. Lawson was a long-time employee of Campbell, Wilson and Millar, a grocery and dry goods wholesaler. In the Great War, he served with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on the Western Front, where he suffered from trench foot before losing his left eye to a careless comrade’s bayonet in an accident three months before the Armistice.
Early success in the pool and on the track at Caswell Elementary was a hint of the brilliant career to come. She claimed two provincial speed-skating titles at the Saskatchewan championships in 1944 while a freshman student at Bedford Road Collegiate, the high school attended by Ethel Catherwood, who won the Olympics high-jumping gold medal the year before Ms. Lawson’s birth.
Ms. Lawson’s dominance as an athlete found early expression in 1947 when she was still aged 17. In May, she won all six track events she entered at her high school championship, setting a school record in Catherwood’s event, the high jump. In July, she won the Canadian women’s shot-put competition by putting the heavy metal ball a distance of 30 feet, 8½ inches at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton. In October, Ms. Lawson’s University of Saskatchewan Huskiettes dominated the Western Canada Intercollegiate Athletic Union track and field championships. She won the broad jump and the running high jump, as well as the 440-yard relay. She finished second in the 100-yard dash. Her classmates won three other events, as Hazel Braithwaite captured the discus throw and Sylvia Fedoruk took the javelin toss and softball throw.
Ms. Lawson competed on 13 varsity teams during her four years as a student athlete on campus, including basketball, swimming, tennis, and track and field. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1950, added an education degree three years later before completing a master’s degree at the University of Oregon in 1959 and a doctorate at the University of Southern California in 1967.
She joined the physical education faculty at the University of Saskatchewan in 1956. She was a teacher, coach and administrator before being named women’s athletic director. She coached the Huskiettes basketball team from 1956-64 and again in 1967-68. In 1966, she was named coach of Canada’s national women’s basketball team.
As an administrator and executive, she worked to enhance the opportunities in sport for girls and women. She was a founding member of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport, president of the Canadian Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and chairperson of the National Advisory Council on Fitness and Amateur Sport.
Ms. Lawson died at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon on Oct. 10. She had been on oxygen for a year for fibrosis and was diagnosed with cancer in both lungs earlier this year. She leaves her partner, Barbara Dorsey. She was predeceased by her sister, Ruth Nase.
Earlier this year, she was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame. She already had been enshrined in the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Golf Hall of Fame, the University of Saskatchewan Athletic Wall of Fame, and the Bedford Road Wall of Honour at her old high school. The woman athletic rookie of the year at her alma mater receives the Patricia Lawson Trophy.