Julian "Tex" Robertson
For 80 of his 93 years, he has been a swimmer, coach, administrator, promoter and leader. He is a self-motivator whose message is contagious. He became an All-American swimmer, University of Texas swimming coach and developer of Camp Longhorn, one of the USA’s most successful children’s competitive swimming and sports camps.
Julian William “Tex” Robertson was born in 1909 in Sweetwater, Texas to Frank and Nancy Robertson, wholesale grain distributors to West Texas farmers and ranchers.e to teach school children swimming. At age nine, the family moved to Austin where young Julian enjoyed watching the training sessions of the university competitive swimmers in the basement pool of the local YMCA. Both the university and swimming would make an impression on the young boy. One year later, the family decided to move back to Sweetwater where Julian learned to swim in a flooded creek near his home. There were no swimming pools in Sweetwater, so he practiced his swimming in a horse trough.
In 1922, at age 13, he entered and won the local Sante Fe Lake Swim, winning a sack of Gold Medal flour from Glass Grocery. Soon he had a reputation as the fastest swimmer in Sweetwater. He won mile races in Galveston and even won triathlons of equal parts running, riding a horse and swimming.
At age 15, he graduated from Sweetwater High School and decided to join his older brothers in Los Angeles where work was more plentiful. It was in California that his nickname “Tex” was devised and where his swimming was improved at the local YMCA. Hall of Fame Coach Fred Cady, at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, invited Tex to compete on his team, and Tex went on to win various ocean swims and even the YMCA National Championships. Johnny Weissmuller even gave Tex a few pointers when ever in Los Angeles.
Tex attended various junior colleges in the Los Angeles area, mainly because he wanted to continue competing and improving his swimming. He was a summertime lifeguard in Santa Monica and a swimming instructor and counselor at boys’ camp on Catalina Island. He started playing water polo, becoming team captain and the forward of his team that was selected to represent the United States in the 1932 Olympic Games. But because he was unable to attend the qualifying game in Cincinnati where the team was selected, he was left to serve as a replacement. The U.S. Team won the bronze medal at the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932.
Robertson was offered an opportunity to enroll and train with Coaches Matt Mann at the University of Michigan and Bob Kiphuth at Yale University. He chose Michigan. At six feet tall, 180 pounds, Tex emerged as a Michigan swimming champion, setting 220y collegiate records and capturing the Big 10 Conference Championship 440y freestyle. He ended up breaking Johnny Weissmuller’s 440y freestyle record. In 1934 and 1935, his Michigan teams captured the national championships and Tex was named All American both years. He was a NCAA champion in 1935 as a member of the 4 x 100y freestyle relay.
While in Ann Arbor, Tex earned money coaching high school swimming and working various children’s camps. Tex was so impressed with his coach Matt Mann’s children’s swim and sports camp in Canada, he announced to Matt, “When I’m finished at Michigan, I’m going back to Texas to coach swimming and I’m going to have a camp just like your Camp Chikopi. I’ll call it Camp Longhorn.” He was impressed with the opportunity Chikopi provided the children and wanted to duplicate it in his home state of Texas.
After the 1936 school year, Tex returned to Austin and became the first fulltime coach at Texas, but had to work for no pay. He earned money both as a lifeguard and by acquiring Coca-Cola’s first franchise for their new vending machines, which became an overnight sensation. The money he earned filling the coke vending machines allowed him to support his Texas swimming team. As a coach, he picked up the nickname, “Little Matt Mann,” and in his first year won the conference championship and finished 5th in the nation. He coached swimmers to great success including 1936 Olympians Adolph Kiefer, backstroke gold medallist, and Ralph Flanagan, freestyle silver medallist. He brought Olympic diver Skippy Browning to Texas. In 1948, he was appointed to the NCAA Rules Committee. During four weeks in the summers he also continued to run Camp Wolverine back in Michigan, a kids’ summer camp at which he worked while a Michigan student.
Then, in 1939, after an exhausting search for the right location, Tex and his bride, Pat, started Camp Longhorn on 38 acres of land on Inks Lake in West Texas. His lifelong dream had become reality. Only one paid camper enrolled, but that number jumped to 17 the following year. Camp enrollment and size continued to grow every year. The camp was interrupted for a few years in the 1940s when the events of World War II put a hold on things. Tex joined the Navy in 1941 and was stationed in San Diego as director of three swimming pools with the primary responsibility of teaching survival swimming skills to new recruits. In 1943, he was transferred to Fort Pierce, Florida where he trained sailors in underwater demolition tactics. These sailors eventually became know as “frogmen” and were a forerunner to the Navy Seals. He also coached the Navy Swim Team to the National Navy Championships.
Following the War, Camp Longhorn reopened and Tex continued coaching the University of Texas swimming teams, where in his 13 years he coached his teams to 13 Southwest Conference Championships, finishing high in national rankings. He retired from coaching in 1950 to spend fulltime on Camp Longhorn. His words, “attaway-to-go,” can be heard all over camp to acknowledge, praise and inspire his campers. In 1975, Tex opened Camp Longhorn at Indian Springs, the next lake over from Inks Lake. Over 75,000 children have attended Camp Longhorn Inks Lake and Camp Longhorn Indian Springs, including President George W. Bush. Tex, his wife Pat and five children, John, Bill, Robby, Sally and Nan, and their families continue to run the camps today, now in the 63rd year.
Tex Robertson is known for his cheerfulness, positive attitude and willingness to share his firsthand experiences. At age 93 he continues to swim almost every day. He has competed and excelled in the Masters program.
Recipients of the Gold Medallion Award.