Aberdeen track great Lawson dies

Bob Lawson, one of the top track athletes in Aberdeen High School history, died unexpectedly recently at his home in Ocean Shores.

A nationally ranked decathlete who narrowly missed making the United States Olympic team in 1956, the 1954 Aberdeen High grad remained active in sports well into his mid-70s. He was a perennial gold medalist in several events at the Washington State Senior Games.

A strong case can be made that Lawson, a charter member of the Aberdeen High Hall of Fame, was the greatest of all Bobcat tracksters.

“I’d rate him No. 1,” former longtime AHS track coach Don Churchill said.

A five-time state high school champion (winning three titles in the high jump and two in the hurdles) under the tutelage of Coach Al Bivens, Lawson was the high-point man at two successive state meets. He led Bobcats to a state runner-up finish in 1954 and established school records in six events.

He was also a football and basketball standout at Aberdeen. A two-way all-conference performer in football, he played in the all-state all-star game and kicked the extra point that gave his team a 7-7 tie.

A starter on Aberdeen’s state runner-up basketball team in 1953 (he earned second team all-state tournament recognition), Lawson was the club’s leading scorer and rebounder as a senior.

Lawson went on to star in track at USC, twice winning Pacific Coast Conference championships in the 120-yard high hurdles and finishing as high as fourth in that event in the 1958 NCAA meet.

He became prominent in the decathlon while still in college. Lawson was second in the AAU nationals in 1955. His fourth- place finish the following year was one spot shy of earning an appearance in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

Lawson was beaten out for the third and final Olympic slot by the Rev. Bob Richards, better known as a pole vaulter (and later a commercial spokesman for a breakfast cereal).

Richards, who had already qualified in the pole vault (in which he won the gold medal), initially said he would withdraw from the decathlon — a decision that would have given Lawson the final Olympic berth— but subsequently changed his mind and competed in both events at Melbourne. The other two American decathletes that year were 1956 gold medalist Milt Campbell and Rafer Johnson, who won the event four years later.

Lawson also finished as high as second in the AAU pentathlon.

After spending many years as a coach and fitness trainer, Lawson moved to Ocean Shores from Oregon more than a decade ago. While he traveled extensively, he was also a regular spectator at Aberdeen High sporting events.

“I grew to like him a lot,” said Churchill. “He’d do anything for anybody.”

Lawson was a member of the first induction class in Aberdeen High School’s Hall of Fame in 1998. He frequently attended Hall of Fame meetings in recent years to support the candidacy of other athletes from his era.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.