Rex Aubrey, Parkes' first Olympian, dies in the USA

VALE, REX AUBREY: Daphne Franzer, Rex Aubrey and Frank Murphy, of New Zealand, poolside in 1951. Photo: Australia 1952 Olympic Team Facebook.

VALE, REX AUBREY: Daphne Franzer, Rex Aubrey and Frank Murphy, of New Zealand, poolside in 1951. Photo: Australia 1952 Olympic Team Facebook.

Rex Aubrey, Parkes' first ever Olympian, sadly died on April 20 in the USA.

The dashing blonde from Parkes swum at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki - but that is just scratching the surface of a life filled with accomplishments.

Not only did he achieve a lot during his long life, but he did it with grace, humility and a quiet strength.

Rex's longtime friend Bob Barter, who still resides in Parkes, was very grateful to call him a friend.

"I first met Rex at the Parkes Swimming Club, he was three years older than me," he said.

"We also went to Parkes High School together, and we were friends for well over 70 years.

"He was a good looking boy, and all the the girls loved him, but also so nice - a real gentleman," said Bob.

Rex was born in Parkes in February 1935 and was the youngest member of the swimming team in Helsinki.

He was first noticed in 1948, when he won the 55 yards under 13 championship at the North Sydney Olympic Pool.

Lucky for Rex, Parkes had a 55 yard pool built in 1935, which opened just three weeks before Rex was born - many towns only had 25 yard pools so perhaps he was always destined for success in the water!

Rex saw his early years of swimming and training as fun times intermingled with all other sports - Rex was also a talented golfer, scuba diver, squash player and proficient in many athletic events; just to name a few.

He would spend ten to twelve hours a day during summer in the Parkes Olympic Pool.

Rex was the New South Wales and Australian Championship holder of the 110 and 220 yards in January 1952 and on his times, a certainty for the Olympic team.

He was ranked five out of the swimming team of ten.

In the 100 metre freestyle in Helsinki, Rex won the 6th heat of the 100m and was 3rd in the semi finals.

His time of 57.8 secs in that semi final was the fastest swum by any Australian at that time.

Unfortunately, his preparation was all too short to maintain his form over the heat, semi final and final.

In the final he held third place until the last fifteen yards and then faded to finish 6th - perhaps disappointing for him but an absolutely marvellous effort on the big stage.

Rex had applied to Yale University while the team was in London acclimatising before they travelled to Helsinki.

Other plans had also been made with the swimming coach, Sep Prosser, to return to Australia and study Pharmacy at Sydney University while he worked as a pencil for Sep, who was a bookie.

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All this completely changed when Rex made the life altering decision to head off to the US on the MV Georgic with John Marshall.

Very academically inclined and exceptionally bright, he attended Willaston Academy before going to one of America's most prestigious universities, Yale.

Bob says Rex sent word of his decision to his parents back in Parkes by a communication device many youngsters these days would not have heard of.

"He sent a telegram to his parents here in Parkes to tell them he was going to America, but he was the golden boy so he could do no wrong - they were thrilled for him."

At Yale, he became an NCAA champion, claiming individual titles in the 50 and 100 yards freestyle events , along with the 400 yards freestyle relay.

At the age of 21, Rex's time of 49.0 seconds flat in the 100 yard freestyle made him the holder of the world, American, and NCAA records.

Yes, Rex swam a world record time.

In 1954, Rex joined the Australian Team in Canada for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games where he won a gold medal in the 4 x 220 yards freestyle and a Bronze in the 110 yards freestyle, while Jon Henricks took out the Gold.

While still at Yale, Rex married Ann Nothnagel in March 1957 in New Haven, Connecticut.

They had three children: Rex Junior, Robin and Regina.

After graduating from Yale in 1958 with a Political Science degree, Rex took a job as Athletic Director at the Omaha Athletic Club where he coached age-group, prep school and college swim teams.

In 1962 ,Rex was hired as Athletic Director at the Detroit Athletic Club where he stayed until retirement in 2002.

Bob was lucky enough to tour the facility when he visited Rex.

"When my wife June and I went over to visit him in Detroit, he took us through the Detroit Athletics Club (after he'd retired), and it was easily to see the regard the club held him.

"All the office girls all came out to see him, this big guy, who was the chef, came out to wrap him in a huge bear hug and he showed us the pool he trained at," said Bob.

Perhaps the best anecdote Bob could tell about his dear friend was the time he turned down, wait for it, Hollywood.

"The editor of a local paper in Detroit asked him in 1954 whether he'd like to go to Hollywood and act in movies for $50,000 a year but he turned him down - it just wasn't up his alley," said Bob.

A quick Google inflation calculation says that is worth $492,336.43 in today's money - but Aubrey was a man who knew what he wanted in life, and he did it very well.

Vale, Rex Aubrey.

A life well lived.

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