Leslie Samuel Pawson

Inducted: 1968
Born: 1905
Died: 1992

Leslie Pawson was a world-class marathon runner of the 1930s and 1940s and the chief local rival to “Tarzan” Brown and Johnny Kelley. Pawson won his first Boston Marathon in 1933. He ran into powerful headwinds, which turned his arms, face, and legs red and raw from windburn. Despite the weather conditions, Pawson broke Johnny Miles’ 1929 course record, winning by 5 ½ minutes. That win helped Pawson move out of the Pawtucket mills where he had worked from age 17. He also won the Boston Marathon in 1938 and 1941, becoming the second runner to win the race three times. Kelley ran third and second to Pawson’s wins in 1938 and 1941. Pawson and Kelley were very close, not just in marathon, but in life. Pawson was the best man at Kelley’s wedding.

Since its inception, the marathon has always been considered an endurance contest. Pawson believed it was a speed race and incorporated training principles from his track and short race background in his preparation. “The physical and psychological contributions made to the Boston Marathon by Leslie Pawson should never be underestimated,” wrote the legendary Boston Globe columnist Jerry Nason.

In an interview with the Providence Journal, Pawson recalled how he discovered running at age 17 when he was already working in the mills and finishing high school at night. He recalled accompanying his father to a track meet and telling him, “I think I could run that fast. It was just something I liked to do,” Pawson added.

He began training and won a one-mile race at Rocky Point.  Pawson ran his first Boston Marathon in 1931, where he was noticed by former Olympic runner Fred Faller, who offered to coach Pawson. Faller was an American long-distance runner who competed at the 1920 Summer Olympics. He finished eighth in the 10,000 m, 15th in the individual cross-country, and fourth in the team cross-country event. Faller won the AAU 10-mile and cross-country titles in 1919–20 and finished second in the 10-mile race at the 1919 Inter-Allied Games. His AAU record held for 25 years. He was also one of Johnny Kelley’s advisors. Fallon was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America’s American Long Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1972.

Pawson began running two nights a week and on Saturdays. He won the Boston Marathon two years later, breaking the course record. He was named to the U.S. team for the 1940 Olympics, but the Games were not held because of World War II. Pawson was the subject of an Emmy-winning television documentary by Fred Lewis called “That Golden Distance,” which told the stories about pioneers of the Boston Marathon. Lewis describes jogging at Lincoln Woods with Pawson, who was 76 then.  In 1984, Pawson joined Sen. Claiborne Pell and Sen. Alan Cranston of California in Lincoln Woods for the Pell-Cranston “Walk or Run for Peace,” a 21/2-mile trek around the park’s Les Pawson loop. In 1982, at age 77, Pawson ran around the track and lighted a symbolic Olympic flame at the annual Senior Olympics sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs.

Pawson was born in Pawtucket on February 3, 1905, the son of Thomas and Eliza Pawson. He lived in Pawtucket most of his life and operated the Superior Insulation Company before retiring in 1981. He previously worked for the Lorraine Manufacturing Company for 20 years. He married Elizabeth (Brooks) Pawson in 1935 and fathered two children, Joan and Ronald.

 He died on October 13, 1992, at the age of 87.

Les Pawson was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968, the Road Runners Hall of Fame in 1974, and the Pawtucket Hall of Fame in 1981.

A plaque erected at Lincoln Woods in 1994 reads:

The Les Pawson Loop

Named for

Leslie Samuel Pawson

1905 – 1992

Winner of the Boston Marathon 1933, ’34 and ’41

U.S. Olympian 1940

A Gentle, Quiet Man Who Loved Running On This Trail And Through These Woods


April 30, 1994.

For additional reading:

  • Boston Marathon Traditions & Lore, Paul Clerici, Arcadia Press, March 4, 2024.
  • The Boston Marathon, Richard Johnson. Appleton Press, April 6, 2009
  • Tarzan Brown: The Narragansett Indian, by Michael Ward, McFarland Press, 2007.
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