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Remembering Dawn Bean

By Lea Bean | Oct. 06, 2021, 10:27 a.m. (ET)

Dawn Pawson Bean, international leader in the sport of synchronized swimming, died peacefully at her home with family by her side, on September 22 at the age of 94. Dawn was very nearly a California native: she was born on May 28, 1927 in New York City, but moved to Albany, California, at the tender age of three months, along with her parents Richard and Elna Pawson. When she was twelve, her parents took her to see the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, including the Billy Rose Aquacade, and thus began a lifelong passion and calling.

She joined the San Francisco Water Follies at age 13 and, after the war, joined the water ballet team of the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland, where she commenced coaching as well as swimming when the team’s long-time coach died unexpectedly. The Athens Club team, including Dawn and her two sisters Joan and Lynn, went on to win many national championships. They were also the first synchro team to represent the United States in international competition, winning the team event at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City. While racing with the Oakland Swimming Association, she met Ross Bean, a teammate, who became the love of her life. Dawn attended UC Berkeley, earning a degree in physical education and a teaching credential. Upon Dawn’s graduation in 1949, Dawn and Ross married, and their marriage lasted for 51 years, until Ross’ death in 2000. While practicing Synchro at the Athens Club, Dawn began asking Ross to analyze and critique her performances. Eventually, he began coaching the Athens Club team with her – and they continued coaching together throughout their lives.

Dawn and Ross moved south from the San Francisco Bay Area to Riverside and then to North Tustin. Dawn continued building and coaching competitive synchro teams: the Riverside Aquettes from 1958 - 1966, and the Tustin/Irvine Meraquas from 1964 - 1983. Both teams competed at an advanced level – Dawn considered one of her biggest accomplishments to be coaching teams that were successful in reaching senior national finals for 22 consecutive years. Later, she coached the Unsyncables, a masters team, for 21 years, winning 12 overall national titles and many FINA (Federation Internationale de Natacion) Masters World Championship titles.

Dawn became an international synchronized swimming judge in the 1970s, selected in the first group of FINA “A” list judges. She judged the FINA World Championships, Pan American Games and the Olympics. She began NCN (National Clinic Network) camps when the Olympic Training Center opened to synchro. Dawn was always in demand for clinics worldwide, often with her husband Ross. She served eight years on the United States Olympic Committee’s Executive Board and House of Delegates and was elected US Synchronized Swimming Association President in 1984. She capped her career in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, as the Competition Director for synchro’s Olympic debut. In 1996, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame for her contributions to the sport.

However, she felt her greatest achievement was editing and publishing “Synchro” magazine for 30 years (1963-1992). As a young coach, she knew other coaches wanted technical information and she decided to provide it. The magazine, published bi-monthly, started as a fifteen page newsletter and grew into an eighty page magazine with subscribers throughout the United States and in over fifty countries. She wrote numerous articles on the sport and helped author several USA Synchro publications, including “Coaching Synchronized Swimming Effectively.” She also was a key contributor to the first FINA judging manual. In 2004, her book Synchronized Swimming, An American History was published. Beyond her accomplishments in synchronized swimming, Dawn also was passionate about gardens and music. Dawn and Ross purchased their family home in Tustin because of its large lot and fruit trees. They turned the yard into a lush fruit and flower garden and after Ross’ death Dawn kept the garden beautiful with the help of her youngest daughter Lea –a living legacy of both Dawn and Ross. Dawn had a lifelong love of music: she played piano and enjoyed the Romantics Beethoven and Dvorak, musical theater, and folk music. She loved attending dance and Broadway musical performances - Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Showboat were some of her favorites.

Dawn is survived by her two sisters Joan Nelson of Santa Rosa and Lynn Hale of Sonoma; daughters Kevis Brownson of Alameda, Avilee Goodwin (Daniel) of Richmond, and Leadel Bean of Tustin; grandchildren Dan Brownson of Berkeley and Sally Brownson (Justin Sands) of Alameda.

A celebration of life will be held November 13th for family and friends; please contact Dawn’s daughter, Lea, for information at leadelbean@gmail.com. Dawn loved flowers, especially those with roots attached, but if you wish to honor her memory in another way, her family suggests donations to the USA Artistic Swimming Foundation or the International Swimming Hall of Fame.