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William "Buzz" Sawyer, Jr.

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Obituary

William "Buzz" Joseph Sawyer, Jr. , 90, of Williamsport, MD, passed away, Sunday, February 3, 2019, at the Williamsport Nursing Home.

Born Wednesday, May 16, 1928 in Whitakers, NC, he was the son of the late Willie and Effie (Hamill) Sawyer.

Buzz graduated from Granby High School, NC in 1946. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, where he was the captain of the track and field team. In 1959 Buzz was asked to represent the United States as a member of the U.S. Track and Field team, running races in Istanbul Turkey, Iran and India. He served with the U.S. Air Force for three years. He was employed with Fairchild Aircraft, Pangborn and Mack Truck, retiring in 1987. He also worked part time for the Hagerstown Herald Mail Newspaper as a sports writer, covering football, basketball, track and other related sports. He was the founder of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club and the JFK 50 Mile Race, the oldest ultra marathon in U.S. history. He was inducted into the  Washington County Sports Hall of Fame and into Granby High School Sports Fall of Fame. In March 1963, Buzz and 10 others embarked on the JFK 50 mile race and finished it in 13 hours and 10 minutes. He was also a member and ran for the Baltimore Olympic Club. Buzz was an avid Baltimore Orioles fan and a friend of Cal Ripken, Jr. and his family.

He is survived by his four cousins, Vivian Williams Warren (John) of Rocky Mount, NC, Tom Williams, Jr. (Becky) of St. Augustine, FL, Ralph Williams (Susan) of Greenville, SC, and David Williams (Jackie) of Wake Forest, NC.

Buzz will be buried with his parents at Battleboro Cemetery, NC with a private graveside service. 

A Celebration of LIfe service will be announced at a later date.

Arrangements have been entrusted to the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, 1331 Eastern Blvd. North, Hagerstown, MD.

Online condolences may be expressed at www.douglasfiery.com 

Guest Book

I met Buzz when I was a sophomore in high school. I was from Greencastle, and so didn’t enjoy the South High connection that others have written about. From the day I met him, he was a mentor, coach, teacher and inspiration to me and many other local runners, regardless of talent, ability or age. Training for distance running was poorly understood by high school coaches and the general public in those days, and he provided sage advice and coaching to me, loaned me books on training techniques, and generally instilled me with a clear understanding that hard consistent training was the requirement of a competitive distance runner. This served me well through high school and continuing through college where I was part of The College of William and Mary’s distance running program. As others have said, he was quick to put his training and running opportunities aside to make opportunities for those that he coached. I remember the first year that the JFK 50 became so big that he gave up participating in the race because he could no longer manage it and participate. Soon after, the race attendance exploded. Buzz’s dedication to running and the hundreds of opportunities he provided meant so much to so many. After I ran the JFK 50 in 1969 as a senior in high school, my father was inspired to run it in 1970. Dad died two years ago at the age of 90 and I inherited his tool chest from his job as an aircraft mechanic-his very personal and private space. Of the few mementos from a life well lived that could have been found in that tool chest was a newspaper clipping listing him as the 83rd finisher in that race. Just one example of how Buzz’s life touched many and enriched the community in so many ways.

Steve Snyder
Middletown, Pennsylvania

When I think of Buzz so many things pop into my mind. First is always the influence he had on so many. He was much more than just a coach. He was the example of a person who was so willing to give of themselves with no expectation of reciprocity. He always offered his best and because of that earned the best many of us could give in return. I never will forget the first time a couple of the other more experienced runners at South High took me with them up to see Buzz. I had heard about this almost mystical coach and wanted to find out for myself if the stories were true. He was the one who would each week send written workouts for his club members. He was the one who was so known for his proteges that the high school coaches finally gave up trying to intervene with his system. He was the one who was able to adapt to so many different talent levels because he had been there himself. I remember going up some stairs, winding through some hallways and finally we stopped. One of the guys knocked on his door. As we entered it was a world I had never entered before. Total organized clutter. I looked at the shelves filled with countless running magazines, news clippings and that old typewriter on his desk. I was stunned to see pictures of this coach winning races all over the world. Every inch of wall space was covered with shelves or pictures. I can still remember that cardboard cutout of maybe a twelve inch section of a high jump bar over his door with the caption, world high jump record. This guy was much more than I had envisioned, he was the real deal. He was Yoda before Yoda was ever created. He told me that night “You need to be able to run 6 miles before I will give you work outs”. That was my first challenge. After that initial trip up to the "Y" there were many more. I remember vividly the exciting days when shoe orders had arrived. We would crowd in there anxious to get what we were unable to from any store near us. I’ll never forget Buzz standing in the corner off that tiny indoor track yelling out split times. Also in my mind are the trips when Buzz would take a carload of us to AAU meets. I remember his endless stories about races, workouts and other sports. I recall the walks down Potomac Street to the Snow White Grill, the pentathlon, the invitational mile, the 50 miler, Cowans Gap workouts and that race up a mountain and the summer cross country series. Buzz did have a degree as an engineer but his forte was as a motivator and inspirational master. Buzz influenced so many and seemed to have friends where ever he journeyed. He had a great sense of humor and I will always remember his smile and laugh. It’s been over 50 years since I have seen Buzz. I left Hagerstown for college when I was 17 years old. I was basically gone except for the visits to my family. However, even my parents were influenced by Buzz as they remained friends with him for many years helping annually with the 50 miler as long as their health permitted. It was a blessing for so many to have had a person of his quality actually even reside in a small town in Maryland. But for him to be so willing to give his best to anyone willing to accept it was a true gift. Rest in peace Buzz you have earned it. Douglas "Bones" Fryer Plant City, Fl

Douglas Fryer
PLANT CITY, FL

Buzz was extraordinary and a true visionary. He put T&F, XC and road racing on the local map and ultimately Ultra's on the national. The measure of the man was his willingness to devote as much time to helping a 6 minute miler or 5' high jumper as his more accomplished athletes. What few people know is when he started the CVAC he was one of the top distance runners in the US. The CVAC consumed many hours of his time; time he could have used for his own training and competing. He never once mentioned it. I remember seen no him pay entry fees, give awards, track shoes, meals, etc. to those he knew couldn't afford to pay. He was a mentor, father figure, friend, coach and sometimes task master to many of us. On a lighter note, he could put more sugar in a cup of coffee that physics would dictate it could hold, same with food. He loved home cooking and being invited to a meal after a race/meet. Where he put all that food is still a mystery. People like Buzz rarely come along, those who knew him know exactly what I mean.

Curtis Mason
Sarasota, FL

Buzz Sawyer was a very unique individual and he had an incredible effect on my life. I met Buzz in the 10th grade at South Hagerstown High. He took a personal interest in several of the local runners and I happened to be one of them. Over the next five years he taught each of us dedication, hard work and how to compete in a way that none of us could have imagined. With his help, I grew as a person and as a runner and as a result of his tireless help, his believe that we could always do better, we were each able to achieve goals that I never thought possible. Because of Buzz and his contacts and reputation, I was able to attend the Univ. of Md, as a student athlete, something I would never have dreamed of being able to do. So Buzz thank you from the bottom of my heart. The world has lost a truly great man. God bless you and may you rest in peace... My condolences to his family and friends, he will be missed.

Mark Keeney
Hume, VA

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