Dave Newton, the Memories
If you've had even the remotest involvement in cross country ski racing in the last 50-plus years, even if it's just watching the Olympics on television, you know Dave Newton. Skier, jumper [ed. note: evidently this photo is evidence of the one time Dave jumped; he was not really a jumper!], racer, technical delegate, race starter and timer, husband, father, mentor, our friend ... Dave died last month at the age of 95, leaving a huge hole in the Nordic skiing community. Below is his daughter Lisa's announcement of his death and a bunch of memories and great Newtonesque stories from those of us who knew him and owe so much to him. The blog post following these memories is a collection of photos.
Lisa Newton: Dad passed peacefully last night. Mom was sleeping next to him holding his hand, I was holding his other hand, and Peter was there. The broken hip and everything associated was more than his body could take. He was transferred back to the Hearthstone Wednesday and we got Hospice involved as soon as we knew we needed to. Right now Peter and I are grieving and trying to figure out the best way to help Mom. He was her everything. Joe and Susan are currently working on putting together a memorial fund to help cross-country race officials pay for travel and housing for becoming credentialed and for TDing, also possibly one for PNSA kids to help pay for travel to Junior Nationals. A memorial will be sometime later this summer or fall. I miss my Dad. Any stories would help. Thank you.
Rob C: Dave presided over KSC starts for decades. In his presence he was judicious and fair, always in good humor and had reassuring patter for nervous entrants, often delivered with a Maine accent. He was also one of the leading officials in the USSA, and was Chief of Start and Finish in the x-c events at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.
A problem had been developing in the start of major relays. This was well before the use of electronic wands to control starts. Skiers were not stopping after false starts. Dave was determined to control any false start on his watch.
The gun went off. The gun went off again. No one stopped. The best skiers in the world charged down their respective lanes. At Dave’s signal one of his accomplices raced across the lanes dragging a rope. Upon reaching the far side additional assistants drew the rope taut from either side. Shortly the lanes were filled with flailing, cursing skiers, chief among them Bill Koch.
Dave got his fair start!
Joan: We have very fond memories of Dave and Shirley organizing and timing our Kongsberger races. I joined in the early 1970’s, and they were well established in their respective roles at that time. No computers then, and Dave would start the racers and then use a stop watch with a tape printout which would be sent up to Shirley, along with manually recorded bib numbers, to compute the actual elapsed times by hand. Getting accurate results was very time consuming in those days!
Jeff H: Seeing the picture of those hands makes me think that Dave's hand has been on so many racer's shoulders! He was there for all of my first races at Kongsberger starting in the mid 1980s. His "10 minutes to start" call is a great club tradition. His smile and cheer make every race more fun. Thanks Dave for all you have done for Nordic skiing from our local area to the Olympics!
Boo: Was just thinking of that, too! Dave’s hand gently on my shoulder. Twinkle in his eye.
Debbie: The famous Newton Twinkle was his secret superpower. He always made you feel like he was just absolutely delighted to see you and made the start line fun!
Lisa: Thank you for the reminder of that event. Apparently during the trial run of the relay Dad had someone intentionally false start so they could test the system. The timers etc were NOT pleased. Then it actually happened during the men’s relay. The conversation at South Meadow Farm was pretty fun that night. For the women’s relay they decided to have an individual minder for each athlete.
Rob C: Dave was a cross country ski official for half a century. He knew the USSA and FIS rules as well as anybody in the country. He had the flexibility, the intelligence and the acquired wisdom to apply them appropriately. His starts were happy places, made so by Dave’s good humored banter. As recounted by Jeff and Mona, they also had a personal touch. The hand on the shoulder, lifted at the appropriate moment of departure. Yet given the potentially fraught nature of competition, there must have been over all those decades multiple instances where reasonable people became entirely unreasonable. There must have been times...perhaps the family could tell us...when Dave was pushed to or beyond the limit. I don’t remember seeing such .... and I was that unhinged coach.
In the minutes leading up to the start of the Gunnar Hagen some dozen high school skiers from the Bush School were exhilarated, reporting to me that their wax was excellent. How often, at the Gunnar Hagen, have skiers from your family or group all been successfully waxed, having full confidence in their skis and looking forward to the start of that race? Well, OK, nowadays that happy circumstance might be more the rule. More experienced coaches, better equipment, lots of good waxes, no-wax skis, maybe a little help from climate warming. In days of yore, in my experience it felt as if it were the exception. I was feeling pretty good, perhaps even smug as others, having heard and seen the Bush kids, were asking what we were skiing on.
Then came the ten minute announcement. The race start was postponed for an hour!
I lost it. Completely. I made a bee line for the cabin where Dave and Shirley were upstairs conferring with some of their crew. I stomped up the stairs, flung open the door and stormed into the cabin shouting profanities. Startled though he was, Dave kept his cool. He defrayed some of the tension by calmly hearing me out. I think Dave must have been somewhat abashed by the circumstances because he was a leading proponent and supporter of junior racing in the Pacific Northwest. But he patiently explained to me that it was one of those days where there were too many loose ends in the unfolding of events. For the successful completion of the race and for a good experience for the majority of the entrants, postponing the race was the least bad choice. (As we spoke there was still a number of entrants picking up bibs.) I don’t remember having been entirely placated and probably left the cabin muttering under my breath. But Dave had with his calm integrity defrayed an ugly situation. Just another time among many that exemplifies the proposition that if ever there was a person born to be Chief of Start and Finish, Dave Newton was that person.
Spider: I am a little remiss in tributes to Dave and Shirley, but they are in my heart. It was a dark January Saturday morning in 1974 when the Newtons picked me up from a friend’s apartment in the University District. I had been trying to find a place for cross country ski racing in the Northwest after I began studying at Evergreen in the fall of 1973. I had been told that there was excellent x-c skiing at Evergreen, in letters back and forth between me working and skiing in Finland and an Evergreen student. Unfortunately, she thought excellent cross country skiing was to drive to Mt. Rainier and go tramping around….
If I had known this in advance, I would have activated my admittance to Middlebury (sorry, Joe McNulty…) As it was, Jay Bowerman down in Bend suggested the Kongsbergers.
So Dave and Shirley picked up this unkempt straggly person in the U district and drove me up to the Kongsbergers on a very snowy Saturday. I liked it so much that I asked if I could stay overnight and all the old-timers said yes. That was my beginning with Kongsbergers.
Dave and Shirley would pick me up at Evergreen for races in Oregon on winter weekends, hosting me at various hotels and camps where we overnighted, driving to an almost empty tank in the 1974 gasoline shortage, and always cheering me on and encouraging me.
They did this for a lot of skiers, both up and comers and old-timers. Their persistence in good cheer and good race organizing enabled all of us to persist and thrive.
Thank you, Dave and Shirley.
Jim L: Found a 1975 photo of Dave, doing what he did over the years for so many Kongsberger kids [ed. note: see following post with pictures]. Dave was among the most generous and pleasant persons that I have known. He, along with Shirley, were the glue that held the club and cross country skiing together through some lean years. In passing I have to remember that June and I had known Dave and Shirley for over 50 years. I am so glad that June and I got to visit with them before his accident and thank you for the head’s up that got us over there. As I said, Dave then looked great and was energetic. How quickly things turned around.
Victor W: My deepest sympathy for your loss. Unlike most of you my first interaction with Dave Newton was through work. This goes back thirty-five years ago. We worked at a lead battery recycling plant on Harbor Island. We were formally introduced through a common acquaintance from REI. It was at that point Dave and I realized we had the same employer. When I wanted to become a Kongsberger, Dave was one of my sponsors.
Jim S: This is where I first met Dave Newton. Nat Brown had brought up a dozen of us -- and we were a motley crew--- I had on Levi’s, cable binding touring skis, and a desire to ski and race. The other kids were about the same, several on $2/pair Sunding “Goat” Skis. (Might last a 5km lap, won’t last one jump.) On arrival, we found out that USSA/PNSA “Racing” membership was required to enter. I had a PNSA coupon book that we’d bought as part of a Ski Patrol fund-raising event, but that did not count. Dave got the other youth group coaches to allow us to compete as ‘fore-runners’. This placated the Wenatchee and Oregon Nordic crowd. And off we went…
That was March 1973. Here we are, almost 50 years later, and still at it. Dave and Shirley are a big part of the reason why a lot of us are still skiing. And more importantly, a positive example and inspiration for us, of why building and maintaining our Nordic Ski Racing community is so important. Everyone who has been part of putting on any of our races should realize just how important Dave and Shirley were to ensuring that things went well. And the results were properly prepared, too. I’ve competed in many race, in many different sports, and realize just how well KSC events are conducted. When Dave and Shirley are part of the program, things go well.
I have a race results list from the 1975 “Gold Rush” . Dave was in the upper ¼ of the finishers. (If I can find it, I’ll digitize and send to the club—you’ll recognize a number of other KSC names, too.) So he did a lot more than just stand out in the rain with a clip board and stop watch.
Gunnar: I long anticipated skiing down a well groomed X-c trail would be great fun but never tried it until here at KSC in my late 30's. People from Bergen, Norway have excellent, prepared tracks every winter on nearby mountains. And a famous avuncular train for getting there within minutes! Me-- raised on the other side of the very same mountains found meaningful ski touring only near-- or to the top of Gullfjellet on weekends.
Having my legs prepared by running single laps around Green Lake here in Seattle I finally bought a pair of XC skis and started on our Cabin Creek trails. An eager beaver XC skier--,Jostein Berg and his wife Torhild--also from Norway arrived and joined the club. He and I had shared rental apartments in Gothenburg, Sweden ca. 1-1/2 years while attending school.
The Newtons and him had much in common. Striving to be helpful and make XC competitive skiing fun but professional. I even started competing! We owe David and Shirley huge thanks for their hard work and care! I enjoyed Dave's trace of New England brogue too!
Pat and Paul: Dave contributed so much to our esprit de corps, it is hard to imagine how we can get by without him. Let his spirit live on in our wonderful group somehow. Big challenge! Can we do It?
Joan and Ozzie: Thank you for keeping us posted Lisa. It is very sad news. I will always remember Dave with his “5 Minutes to Start” and his “jumping at Holmenkollen” stories. Shirley was always right in there with him, figuring out the elapsed race times, etc. You are lucky to have had such nice, smart, involved parents, and it was nice you could all be there to comfort him at the end.
Gil and Berit: It’s with deep sorrow that we learn about Dave’s passing. He was such a presence at every Kongsberger race, and Shirley helping with the timing. He will be missed by so many.
5 MINUTES TO START
Helga and Odd: Our deepest sympathy .We have many fond memories of you all at Kongsbergers,
Knut and Tracy: Tracy & I are so sorry for your, and frankly all of our, loss. Your dad has always been a true inspiration! Met him first time in 1992, just a couple of years removed from D1 high level swimming. He just absolutely made such an impact on me how to be a competitor and an ambassador of good sportsmanship. Competitive as all can be, he was. However, it seemed it was second to being a good friend, regardless of age, mind you, and we will all miss him!
Pete H: My favorite memory of Dave also involves you, Lisa. About 23+- years ago, I think it was in Mazama, Dave and I were grousing about having to take blood thinners. You interjected with something about prescribing blood thinners to your patients all the time and they NEVER complained! So Dave's sense of humor still lives on in you.
Brent and Boo: Lisa, when Dave was 90 he told me apologetically but with a faint grin that he rested when he reached the end of the pool when swimming laps now. I hope we can all be so vibrant at that age! You’ve been a great daughter to Dave and Shirley.
Jeff and Terri: Among his many talents and attributes, we appreciated your father’s levity and sense of humor. Besides during skiing, we enjoyed engaging with him summers at Wedgwood Pool on adult swim team. For a time he participated in the adult swim meet typically held in August. We understand that he also went to national masters swim meets. In any event, he showed up at one swim meet bearing a tattoo on his calf, which he proudly exhibited, perhaps in an effort to ward off the competition. No telling how that actually worked. We were all focused on the tattoo. He will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with you and your family.
Joy and Jeff: So glad your family could circle him at the end with your love. Our hearts are full with great memories of Dave's calm and steady presence, and that amazing sense of humor. Sending our love and prayers for you all at this time of greatly missing him.
Rune: I am so sorry to hear the sad news. Dave’s enthusiasm for skiing, ski races, and all the organizing behind the races was such an inspiration. Dave was one of those who made us long for the next ski season even more.
Coert and Courtney: I’m so sorry for your loss. So many great memories and stories. Mom (Jackie) always had great things to say about him from the old PNSA & PNSEF days. He was a charmer, so full of personality, and clever wit. All that he did for XC will not be forgotten and that is very special about the memorial fund.
Thinking of you during this time of grieving.
Don B: So sorry to receive this news. Dave was a wonderful man, loved by so many. We will all miss him but will keep the wonderful memories forever.
Augustina: I am so incredibly sad for your loss. While I did not get a chance to know your dad, I did see him at Cabin Creek. He and your mom were a fantastic welcoming committee. They both helped me feel welcome.
Bob W: A wonderful man gone. Thanks for what he did for the XC ski community.
Tuck M: May your family find peace.
Shaun K: Your Dad was awe inspiring, Lisa.
James B: He was a good man, always positive, with a big smile. So sorry for your loss.
And let’s don’t forget Shirley, Dave’s wing woman!
Rob C: Despite our natural preoccupation with Dave in the moment, I don’t think it would be misplaced or some sort of sop to feminism to include Shirley’s name [ed. note: in the plans to rename the start area as Newton Stadium]. She was as active in, and as knowledgeable about, PNSA and USSA affairs as Dave. In many of his endeavors they were a team. He relied upon her judgment as well as her moral support. She was to be found often right in the middle of all the nitty gritty. She was instrumental in the success of countless Kongsberger races.
Update from Lisa: I have Joe M and Sue B working on scholarships. We are looking at 2 separate "5 minutes to start" funds. One administered by USSSA to be awarded to race officials to offset the cost of travel and housing for clinics and officiating, in particular to promote being technical delegates, and a second, to be administered by PNSEF to help kids who could not afford to go the JN's. Mom and Dad helped and/or paid for a few plane tickets over the years. Sue has reached out to Dan Simoneau and I have spoken with a very nice guy at USSSA in the main office, he's in fundraising. Once we have this coordinated we will be posting in Faster Skier. Marty Hall suggested that. As for a memorial, we are pausing until August or September. Right now I just need to keep Mom going from day to day. I can't thank you all enough for your love and support. It is hard to believe such a force has left this world.