An Olympic Swimmer Without an Olympics

By Ken Dooley

It would be challenging to list the highlights of Doris Brennan Weir’s athletic career without omitting some accomplishment, title, or record. She was simply among the finest female swimmers in the world. It would have been perfect if this brilliant young lady could have completed her competitive career by performing in the 1940 Olympics, slated for Helsinki. She just missed a spot with the 1936 team but earned a position on her second chance. She was named to the 1940 Women’s Olympic team and was ready to compete at Helinski. One unverified story reports that members of the 1940 team were waiting in New York for a ship to Helinski before abandoning the idea because of German U-boats in the area. With the Nazis occupying Europe and the Russians invading Finland, depriving athletes of an Olympic dream qualifies as a minor inconvenience. There is disappointment, however, that Doris Brennan, who gave so many hard years of training, was an Olympian without an Olympics.

She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 10, 1921, the daughter of Francis and Mary (Kilduff) Brennan. Doris began her career as an eleven-year-old girl taking swimming lessons at the Olneyville Boys’ Club. Under the watchful eye of Joe Watmough, she blossomed into one of the most outstanding female swimmers of her time. Watmough spent forty-three years as the swimming coach at Olneyville Boys and Girls Clubs, Central High School, and Brown University. Three of his proteges, including Brennan, were named to U.S. Olympic Teams, and national and world records were broken under his tutelage. He was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1992.

Doris was barely a teenager when she began dominating the New England swimming scene, and national fame followed closely behind. In the region, Doris captured every junior and senior championship possible and shattered records in each event. On a national level, success came just as quickly. Doris swam to five United States titles, taking top honors in the 880-yard freestyle, mile, 200-yard butterfly, and 300-yard medley. Her world record time of 4:32.2 in the 300-yard medley stood for years. One of her greatest thrills was winning her first National Championship title (500 freestyle) in Chicago on March 10, 1937, her father’s birthday. 

Doris would also be a success at Boston’s University’s Sargent College. She was elected president of the Athletic Association and received the Athletic Award as a senior, the highest honor given by the ROTC regiment. Doris graduated from Sargent College in 1942.

By the time the Olympic Summer Games resumed in 1948, Brennan was married to Dr. George Weir, a dentist, and had a year-old son. She was no longer motivated to make an international splash. The couple had three other children: Terrence, Gail, and Mary. This probably hastened her decision to stop racing competitively.

Doris taught at Classical High School and the University of New Hampshire but continued giving back to the sport she loved. She worked extensively with youth clubs, starting with the Smith Hill Girls Club and serving as an assistant to the director. Years later, her efforts were instrumental in constructing the McDermott Indoor Pool in Warwick, Rhode Island. Doris Brennan Weir was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968 and the Rhode Island Aquatic Hall of Fame in 1981. She was inducted into the Boston University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989.

Doris was killed when the car she was driving struck a pole on West Shore Road in Warwick on October 13, 1988. 

Ken Dooley is a director of the Heritage Harbor Foundation.

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