Eulogizing Fenwick Athletic Legend Tony Lawless (1903-1976)

His closest friend for 46 years summed up the great Coach’s qualities in an address to Friar student-athletes one month after his death at age 73.

By late coach/trainer Dan O’Brien ’34
(Fenwick Sports Banquet, December 1976)

Editor’s Note: In 1929, 250 people applied for the position of athletic director at Fenwick High School, an all-boys Catholic school opening in September of that year. Principal/President Fr. Leo Gainor, O.P. selected 26-year-old Anthony R. Lawless to direct the new school’s athletic program. From Peoria, IL, Mr. Lawless was a graduate of Loyola University, Chicago, and the lone layperson among the then all-Dominican faculty and staff. He was the Friars’ head football coach from 1929-56 (record: 177-43-8). A member of the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame, Lawless also was Fenwick’s head basketball coach (1929-47) and founded the Chicago Catholic League Coaches Association.

There comes a time in the life of every athlete when he draws back and takes a hard look at his experiences in order to assess the returns that might have been. His initial inclination will be to recall the emotional peaks, the victories: the win over Loyola’s football team; the cross country effort against Gordon Tech; the golf team’s close finish in the league and district competition; our tennis team’s dramatic victory in straight sets. It is perfectly natural to cling to these memories for personal satisfaction.

However, your more meaningful returns – rewards that will affect your lifestyle and personality – will come in the form of your character-information. This type of return will, in most cases, come as the result of behavior patterns formed from personal contacts – benefits derived from the regard you have for your leader or coach. No doubt most of you, presumably, have developed this type of respect for your respective coaches.

I believe it is very timely to consider the returns we have received from our association with the incomparable Tony Lawless. This very unusual man had personal characteristics that are rare by any standard of reference. His lifestyle was anything but commonplace; it was truly unique. Father Conley’s beautiful homily reflected insight into Tony’s character in his peak years as a coach. My forty-six years with him have given me a singular opportunity to discern what made him tick and the legacy he has left us.

A Supreme Court justice said he learned in his youth a lesson that remained indelible throughout his life: human happiness is not gained from a series of pleasures but from total dedication to a goal above and beyond oneself.

An even greater authority said: “He who loses his life shall find it; he who finds his life shall lose it.” It is a lesson of history that happiness comes only to those who surrender themselves to a work greater than themselves. There is no greater delight than to feel necessary to something you love. A young mother, even if ill herself, when walking the floor at midnight with her sick infant, is doing what she prefers to all else in the world. Children never understand mother until they have children of their own. Tony would have no trouble discerning that young mother’s feelings.

Father Gainor, the founding principal of Fenwick and a priest of exceptional talent and insight – who brought Tony to Fenwick – had a “rule of thumb” in judging the potential value of a student or employee. He believed that a person, regardless of his shortcomings, had value to Fenwick if he had demonstrated love for Fenwick. Tony Lawless was close to the heart of that tradition.

Tony truly loved his work in a most extraordinary way; he really relished coming to work in the morning. The size of his salary was of little or no consideration with him. He filled his every day in a work he deeply loved; being paid for it was a bonus.

Tony was a romantic at heart. While still very young, he fell in love with Fenwick and all it stood for. To the very end, that love was undiminished. What he left us came from a great heart in love with a sublime dream.

Photo album of Coach Tony Lawless:

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