In Passing

Today is veteran’s day. Thank you to those of you who volunteered to serve our country so that I never had to face the draft. It’s not an easy job and we’re proud of you.

Today’s paper brought sad news of the death of a veteran of WWII, Vietnam and The Cold War. He was my fencing coach, Pete Conomikes.

He left a legacy of sportsmanship and a love for the elegant art of fencing. For those of us who fenced under him, Pete will always loom large in our memories.

From the Richmond Times Dispatch.

W&M fencing coach dies
Killed in Henrico crash, Conomikes had coached team for about 35 years

Monday, Nov 12, 2007 – 12:09 AM

By JULIAN WALKER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Virginia’s fencing community lost one of its elder statesmen when Peter S. “Pete” Conomikes died from injuries suffered in a car crash in Henrico County on Saturday afternoon.

Conomikes, 86, was driving some members of the College of William and Mary’s club fencing team, which he had coached for about 35 years. They were headed to a meet in Pennsylvania when the single-vehicle accident occurred around 1 p.m. on Interstate 295, near Interstate 95.

Three freshman fencers were injured in the wreck. Spencer Butts and Ben Gutenberg were in critical condition yesterday at VCU Medical Center. Matt Peppe was treated and released.

Reached by telephone, William and Mary senior Tom Hennig, a team captain, said Butts and Gutenberg are “going to be in the hospital for a while, but they’re doing reasonably well.”

He and other team members were at the hospital.

Hennig said the loss of Conomikes has shocked all who knew him, but none was surprised that he was heading to a fencing tournament.

“If Pete couldn’t go out fencing on the strip, this is the way he would have chosen,” he said. “He was actively coaching us on Friday.”

Conomikes came to William and Mary after serving in the Navy during World War II, the Army during the Vietnam War and retiring from the CIA , said his wife of 19 years, Constance R. Conomikes, in a telephone interview yesterday.

“He was kind, detail-oriented and very good with people,” she said. “He would like to be remembered as a fencing coach.”

Walter Green, who operates the Salle Green fencing school in Ashland, remembered him as a coach and an athlete.

“I fenced against him when he was in his 50s and I was in my 20s,” Green said, “and he was a tough opponent.”

Conomikes started fencing in 1940 at Columbia University in New York. He also trained under fencing master Giorgio Santelli.

Green said Conomikes was internationally certified as a coach and had held leadership roles with the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association.

Dick Oles, the Johns Hopkins University fencing coach and for decades a friendly rival of Conomikes, said Conomikes was among a few coaches who could “make fencers from scratch in a very short time.” He said Conomikes “was what used to be known as a ‘man’s man.’ He wasn’t into touchy-feely, male, wimp-o sensitivity stuff.”

Former William and Mary fencer Mike Anderson of Dallas said Conomikes “was a tough as nails, no-nonsense military veteran. He had a gruff exterior that masked an immense ability to care for his guys. And once he was in your corner, he was there forever.”
Contact Julian Walker at (804) 649-6831 or jwalker@timesdispatch.com.

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