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On Davey’s knee

Joan Hewatt Swaim ’56 remembers Davey O’Brien ’39 as a personable guy and modest man who seemed to be everybody’s friend.

On Davey’s knee

Joan Hewatt Swaim ’56 remembers Davey O’Brien ’39 as a personable guy and modest man who seemed to be everybody’s friend.

I knew Davey O’Brien before he was DAVEY O’BRIEN, but I didn’t know it.

I was only 4 when Davey won the Heisman Trophy in 1938, bringing the national recognition for himself and for TCU that lingers in national athletic annals still, after these 61 years.

Davey was a geology major and, as a student of science, he was also a student of my father, Willis Hewatt, who taught biology.

From 1931 to 1940, the Hewatt family lived on land owned by TCU on the north side of Lowden Street, across from the library. Being that close and the faculty and students being more of a family than is now possible, Daddy’s students would drop by occasionally.

My parents would also have students stay with my sister and me sometimes, and apparently Davey was one of those. I don’t recall that, but Davey did, and got a laugh from it, years later after I was married to Johnny Swaim.

Davey was the master of ceremonies for most of the TCU athletic gatherings in the ’60s and early ’70s, when Johnny was on the TCU basketball coaching staff. On one such occasion, Davey was at the podium, and I, our children, and my mother and father were in the audience.

Coming to Johnny as he introduced the coaching staffs, he told of his own history with the Hewatt/Swaim families, boasting that he had held me on his knee long before Johnny Swaim did. Having success once with that line, he used it at several subsequent affairs.

Davey was also one of Mom Harris’ “boys.” Mom was the name that the students gave my maternal grandmother, Georgia Harris, who was the university dietitian from 1921 until her retirement in 1942. The cafeteria was in the basement of what was then the “Ad Building” (now Dave Reed Hall), and the athlete’s dining room — if you can call it that — was at the rear of the kitchen on what was basically a screened-in back porch, where a single long “training table” was set up.

In inclement weather, canvas awnings let down to keep out the wind and rain. It was here that Slingin’ Sammy Baugh and Little Davey practiced their throws. When the players clamored for more milk than “Mom” had set out, she would have the wire basket of pint bottles put down beside Davey or Sam, and they would “pass” them down the length of the table to their “receivers,” while the tolerant “Mom” shook her head and tried not to smile.

My grandmother loved her boys, and they, I hear tell, loved her. I  don’t personally recollect those times, either, but it was one of my grandmother’s stories, and L. D. “Little Dutch” Meyer vowed to me that it was true.

What I do clearly recall is that Davey was a one-of-a-kind, a personable guy with a quick wit and ready laugh, and a modest man who seemed to be everybody’s friend. He may have been small in stature, but he was in so many ways a giant among men — and a true Frog Prince.