Honoring the Life and Legacy of Lillian MacKellar

by Dawn Bean

Today we honor the life and legacy of Lillian "Billie" MacKellar on her birthday. A pioneer in artistic swimming, Billie passed away in 1988 but her legacy has lived on.

Billie was an untiring missionary for the sport of synchronized swimming who traveled the world to help in its development. After moving to the U.S. in 1953, she started a club in Glendale and became a member of the national committee. In 1970 she suggested that there should be an award for those who have had an impact on the development of the sport and donated the funds for such an award. A committee was established which decided it would be named, The MacKellar Distinguished Service Award and given according to the following criteria. “For unselfishly giving of one’s self  for synchronized swimming without thought of personal gain and with particular emphasis on working for the benefit of the athlete.” The committee felt it only appropriate to make the fist honoree Billie herself in 1971.

Billie in her youth was a swimmer and diver of international renown. She was a national breaststroke and diving champion in her native New Zealand and a participant of many long distance swims there and in Australia, England and France. She went to Canada to compete and ended up staying there to coach both Men’s and Women’s swim teams and synchronized swimming at the University of Western Ontario. Her foremost pupil was June Taylor who won national titles both in Canada and the United States.

After traveling to the 1951 Pan American Games in Argentina in 1951 as manager of the Canadian exhibition team, she left Canada and moved to Hollywood and later to  Glendale where she established an entirely new team, often called “Billie’s kids” which earned some national and international titles and included Betty Vickers, Barbara Burke, Barbara Schaak and Gina Childers.

Billie was an untiring missionary in the sport of synchronized swimming. Whenever a need arose, Billie was there to help. She traveled throughout the US and Canada giving clinics as well as to many countries of the world. She served the U.S. on numerous committees and became national chairman. She began the Life Membership program

On the 25th anniversary of synchro’s acceptance by the AAU as a sport, she felt there should be an award to recognize outstanding contributions by individuals for synchronized swimming. She not only proposed the award but she even supplied the funding for it. And with her funding, the award continues to this day. It is regarded as synchro’s (now artistic swimming) greatest honor.

Nomination information for the Lillian MacKellar Distinguished Service Award can be found here and a list of award recipients can be found here.

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