The sport of swimming has lost a legend.
Not just in Atlanta but the far reaches of the sport as Robert Nash “Pete” Higgins died this week at the age of 86.
Higgins was one of the winningest coaches in Georgia High School history having coached at The Westminster Schools for 56 years.
“He is an absolute legend in the swimming community,” said Franke Marsden, head of the Atlanta Swim Association and friend for more than 40 years. He coached at Westminster for 56 years. I don’t know anybody who does something for 56 years short of drawing air.”
Higgins coached at Westminster from 1960 until his retirement in 2016. His decorated career included 41 state championships and 38 Georgia High School Coach of the Year awards. He won six National High School Coaches Association State Coach of the Year and two National High School Federation National Coach of the Year awards. It is estimated he won over 800 meets. He coached four swimmers who went on to make Olympic teams - Jeff Galloway, Marian Seidler, Jenny Chandler and Sadi Jacobson – and 140 high school All-Americans with many Georgia state champions. He was inducted into the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association of America (NISCA) Hall of Fame in 2016, the first coach from Georgia to be so honored.
“He was just an absolutely awesome guy,” Marsden said. “You never met a more pleasant, wonderful, funny person that connected with everybody from a four year old who is learning how to swim up to his contemporaries. He connected with anybody he ever met.
“People talk about coaching trees. His is a redwood. He’s got so many people that extend so far into the sport. You can’t count the number of people who have stayed in the sport by virtue of associating with him.”
Higgins grew up in Tampa and played football, basketball, swam and ran track for Hillsborough High. He was named to the prep All-American swim team. Following high school he swam for the University of North Carolina. His own swimming career was cut short by polio. He became a graduate assistant coach at UNC until he was contacted about a job at a private school in Atlanta.
A legendary career began.
Among the many organizations he belonged to in the sport of swimming, Higgins was the founding president of the Georgia High School Swimming Coaches Association and a former board member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
“You would be hard pressed to find anybody who won more swim meets or won more state championships than he did,” Marsden said. “I just don’t think that person exists.”
He is survived by his wife Nell Furgason Higgins, daughter Blynn Higgins Masters, her husband, George William Masters; grandchildren Robert Carter Higgins, Kathleen Elizabeth Higgins. Steely Marie Masters, and Hadley Mayer Masters; and preceded in death by his son Robert Higgins Jr.
Funeral services are incomplete.