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Former Judge Nancy Meiss Gone at Age 90

by ALexandra Stevenson

(1 January 2012)

One of the United States' most precious assets is old women! I say that, as an old woman.

Around the world there are many rich nations, but it is only in North America that the tradition of volunteering has put the experience, judgment and availability of their older population to the best use. Meiss was a shining example of down-to-earth common sense, and a willingness to devote her time and energy to our cold sport.

The going was pretty tough, particular the long hours when panels used to stand on the ice to judge figures. And there were always difficulties judging large fields of sometimes not-very-inspired competitors. There were quite a few occurrences when she was not in line with her colleagues, and she survived possibly more than her fair share of sanctions. But that didn’t seem to faze her and she served long after many others had given up.

She started her career as a skating official by becoming the President of the Chicago Figure Skating Club's junior club in 1939. She subsequently earned a reputation for helping to mentor small clubs for membership in U.S. Figure Skating and judging all levels of qualifying competitions.

Meiss was instrumental in starting the Queen City Figure Skating Club of Cincinnati, which became a member club of U.S. Figure Skating in 1956. She served as its President 1971-74, and became a lifetime honorary member.

She was both a dance and figures official, and was a major factor in getting the 1979 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and then the 1987 World championships to her adopted hometown, Cincinnati. She was co-Chairman of both events, which were very successful and well attended. The governor of Ohio presented her with a plaque recognizing her efforts in publicizing the city during those World Championships.

Meiss, a widow, with a daughter, Toni, was born in 1922 and died on January 1 aged 90. Her service to figure skating was recognized at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, when she was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame. She had begun judging in 1958. In 2008, she received her fifty year judging award.

Five-time U.S. champion Janet Lynn wrote in her letter nominating Meiss for the Hall of Fame, “Nancy has travelled the world in a lifelong commitment to judge at all levels with high standards and care.” Among Meiss’ assignments were national and world championships, and she officiated in the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary.

Asked by reporters about the induction in 2009, Meiss said, “I'm thrilled, and I don't think that anything more wonderful could have happened to me. A lot of people deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and I feel very humble about it.”

In a press release, U.S. Figure Skating revealed other background information about Meiss. She was made an honorary ISU championship judge in 1995 and served team leader for international competitions. She judged the first U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships and has missed serving as a judge at only one subsequent event.

When asked about her favorite memory, Meiss said, “I'll never forget the Olympics in Lake Placid in 1980 and being part of it. As difficult as it is to run competitions, there were only 25 of us who ran the entire figure skating event.”

Meiss’ function was the co-chair of the practice ice in the 1980 Games. “It was one of the most interesting, exciting time of my life. We worked 12-to-14-hour days and enjoyed every minute of it.”

She served on numerous U.S. Figure Skating committees, including those for the Museum and the Halls of Fame. She received the Jimmy Disbrow and PSA's F. Ritter Shumway awards in 2004.

All through her career, she collected memorabilia about the sport, and she helped skaters. One of those who says he is forever in her debt, is 1984 Olympic champion, Scott Hamilton, who described her help in his book: "Landing it: My Life on and off the Ice.”

In the 1972 season, Hamilton (then 13) was very upset after placing third in both figures and free but only fourth overall in the Midwest Novice sectionals. Only the top three progressed to Nationals.

Hamilton wrote that afterwards, "My mother contacted Nancy Meiss, a Cincinnati judge whom she had known for many years, and who was a big supporter of mine. Nancy was very candid and my mother liked that about her. She (Meiss) agreed that a change was called for: If I was to get to the next level, I needed a coach who understood the next level.”

Meiss helped Mrs. Hamilton get sponsorship for Scott, without which he would have left the sport. Hamilton wrote, "Nancy knew of a Chicago couple, Helen and Frank McLoraine, who had sponsored Dorothy Hamill. Frank, an attorney, and Helen, an investor, were limited partners in Denver's Colorado Ice Arena...... where the top pro was Carlo Fassi.

Because Meiss suggested it, Fassi agreed to give Hamilton a tryout. That was successful, and, with the funding which Meiss helped negotiate, his career took off to a far higher level. Scott also revealed an amusing incident in which Meiss kept him talking which subsequently led to his sleeping through his stop on the plane and ending up in Kansas City instead of Chicago.

Editor's Notes:

I met Nancy many years ago after she retired from active judging.  Even though no longer assigned to judge, Nancy remained active in figure skating at the local and national level, and remained a keen and insightful observer of the sport until the end.  I would often see her at U.S. Nationals, Skate America, Governing Council and other skating events over the years.  From time to time when the photographers were able to shoot from or near the handicapped areas I would sometimes work next to Nancy and she would share with me her stories of skating during the competition, and her thoughts on the current generation of skating.

Nancy was a great story teller.  Last year I was at a competition talking with Nancy and the curator of the U.S. Figure Skating Museum, Karen Cover, and suggested to Karen that she set up an exhibit at the museum which consisted of Nancy in a display case where visitors could drop money in a coin box, and Nancy would tell them stories.  Obviously a joke, but she was that entertaining and interesting that it was worth the price of an admission ticket to listen.

At competitions I always sought out Nancy wherever she was in the stands to spend some time to hear her thoughts on the current state of skating from the ever lively lady from the Ohio, who never lost her interest and enthusiasm for the sport, and was an inspiration to several generations of skaters and officials, including myself.  It's a shame the museum never had that exhibit and captured her stories and knowledge of the sport to share with future generations.


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