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Who Had the Most Impressive “Titanic” Survival Story?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 17, 2024
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Richard Norris Williams was a 21-year-old tennis player and soon-to-be Harvard student when he embarked on an adventure that would change his life forever. Along with his father, Williams was a first-class passenger on the RMS Titanic in April 1912. Although his father did not survive the sinking of the doomed ocean liner, Williams was able to swim to Collapsible Lifeboat A and was eventually rescued by the RMS Carpathia, though he had spent several hours partly submerged in the freezing water.

It was onboard Carpathia that Williams made a monumental decision. He refused to allow the ship's doctors to amputate his severely frostbitten legs, and instead forced himself to pace the deck every two hours in order to keep the blood flowing. He kept this up for six days, until the ship reached New York City. Amazingly, Williams recovered well enough to compete in the 1912 U.S. National Championships (now known as the U.S. Open) just a few months later, winning the mixed doubles. Williams would go on to win the U.S. Open singles title twice, as well as two U.S. Open doubles titles, one Wimbledon doubles title, and an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles.

The amazing story of R. Norris Williams:

  • The Titanic movie scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio's character rescues another passenger by breaking down a door, only to be told by a White Star employee that he'd have to pay for the damage, was based on a real-life incident involving Williams.

  • Williams' impressive career wasn't limited to the tennis court. He earned the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor for his outstanding U.S. Army service during World War I.

  • He was also an investment banker (at the time, tennis players were officially amateurs and weren't paid openly until 1968), and an expert in Pennsylvania history. Williams was famously modest and rarely discussed his achievements as a tennis player or war hero, nor his amazing Titanic survival story.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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