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Grande Dame Award



Geraldine Farrar Johnston, known affectionately to everyone as Jeri, was born on July 5th , 1923 in Sumner County, Tennessee. In 1934, the family moved to Florida due to her father’s ill health. While attending Titusville Jr. High School, Jeri learned to dive from a wooden platform, the WPA built in the Yacht Basin. But there were no organized swimming and diving competitions at that time in her area of Florida.


Following her father’s death in 1941, the family moved back to Tennessee, and Jeri spent the next 20 years living in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio and northern Florida where her new husband Roy was attending school in Gainesville. Three daughters, Laura Lee, April and Robin were born. But it was back in Ohio at the Brentwood Bath and Tennis Club near the University of Cincinnati that Jeri became involved with swimming and diving. Daughter Laura Lee had become a Greater Cincinnati champion diver.


In 1961, Pratt & Whitney transferred Roy to Cape Canaveral and Laura Lee immediately joined the Howard Park Swim Association where she was coached by several diving coaches including Jerry Lang, Ben York, Dick Morris, Wally Colbath, Al Coffey and Neal Allen. The problem was, none of them were around consistently. Jeri began acquiring all films and books on diving and Roy would apply his metallurgical engineering background with the laws of physics to each step of the dive. What became an effort to help her daughter turned into a passion, teaching the basics of springboard diving to any young diver wanting coaching.


For almost three decades, Jeri coached diving throughout Palm Beach County. She coached at the high schools of Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Riviera Beach, Cardinal Newman, North Shore and Forest Hill, developing state champions and finalists. Also included were the North Palm Beach Diving Team (her chartered team) and other academies and schools including St. Andrews of Boca Raton.


From 1961 to 1987, Jeri served the Florida Gold Coast A.A.U. as Senior Women’s Diving Chairman, Vice President, President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chairman of Registration and Junior Olympic Diving. Nationally, she has served on Rules, Finance (Chairman) and Hospitality Committees. She was a delegate to all A.A.U. and U.S. Diving National Conventions.


She was also Acting Secretary to National Chairmen at early meetings and was elected Co-Chairman of the National Junior Olympics Committee. She ran the scoring and entries table at the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s International Diving Meet for many years and helped with the Ted Keller Annual Age-Group Diving Meet at the Hall of Fame. She was coach/manager of U.S. age-group teams competing in Winnipeg, Canada (1977), Stuttgart, Germany (1979) and the National Sports Festival (1981) in Syracuse, New York.


In 1966, Jeri joined the International Swimming Hall of Fame Dames and was an active member for over 25 years. She served as Secretary and worked on all fundraising events of the group. She was a longtime member of the ISHOF Board of Directors that later became the ISHOF Congress. She never passed up a local television sports appearance without being dressed in the ISHOF Dames uniform to advertise the ISHOF International Diving Meets.


Jeri truly represents volunteerism. She does it with enthusiasm, dedication and with a warm feeling that attracts people to her and makes it comfortable to be around her. Jeri Athey - ISHOF’s Grand Dame is a comfort to us all.

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