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UNSINKABLE
L. JON WERTHEIM
April 02, 2012
A CENTURY AGO, MORE THAN 1,500 PEOPLE DIED IN THE MOST FAMOUS SHIPWRECK IN HISTORY. TWO OF THE WORLD'S BEST TENNIS PLAYERS, RICHARD WILLIAMS AND KARL BEHR, SURVIVED THE DISASTER—IN VERY DIFFERENT WAYS
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April 02, 2012

Unsinkable

A CENTURY AGO, MORE THAN 1,500 PEOPLE DIED IN THE MOST FAMOUS SHIPWRECK IN HISTORY. TWO OF THE WORLD'S BEST TENNIS PLAYERS, RICHARD WILLIAMS AND KARL BEHR, SURVIVED THE DISASTER—IN VERY DIFFERENT WAYS

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Williams was conscripted for duty in the Army and was dispatched to Europe in 1917. One of the ships in the convoy was the Carpathia. "My grandfather wondered," says Quincy Williams, "if he was going to have to climb the Carpathia's decks again." Williams served with distinction in the second Battle of the Marne in July 1918 and was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre by the French government after the war.

Following their retirement from tennis, both men made small fortunes as financiers, Williams in Philadelphia and Behr in New York City, where he served on the boards of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and the National Cash Register Company. Deeply committed to public service, both men were philanthropists and civic leaders. Though Williams was reluctant to discuss his experience in one of the seminal events of the 20th century, he was enthralled with history and, in his early 50s, left finance to become president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Williams was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1957 and Behr, posthumously, in '69. Behr died in '49 at age 64, Williams in '68 at 77. Their surviving family members have never met, but they characterize the two men similarly. Lynn Sanford calls Behr "a good man, modest and delicate." Quincy Williams says of his grandfather, "He was a good, very humble man who didn't like to talk about himself."

This is amply supported by a story Dick Williams told in his memoirs. In middle age he went to England on business. One night he dined in a picturesque country town. Verdant trees bordered a winding stream; a lush valley spread in the distance. Williams praised the view to his dinner companion. The other man agreed and then said the village had been "the home of a man you, of course, never knew and probably never heard of. He was Captain Smith of the Titanic, which struck ice and went down with such appalling loss of life some years ago. You may recall that disaster?"

There was so much Williams, who had dined with Smith aboard the doomed ship, could have said in response. But judging from the account in his memoirs, he didn't reply at all.

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