LOS ANGELES – Richard "Duke" Llewellyn, the chairman and co-founder of the John R. Wooden Award, passed away Friday morning at Good Samaritan Hospital at the age of 93.
Llewellyn was a fixture on the Southern California sports scene for more than 70 years, first as an athlete at USC, then as a U.S. military boxing champion, coach and event director, and most recently in his role guiding the John R. Wooden Award to its status as the nation's top college basketball honor.
"We are devastated to lose Duke," said Los Angeles Athletic Club President Steve Hathaway. "Quite simply, he was the Wooden Award, and symbolized everything that is right about college athletics and amateur sports. He led an incredible life having touched so many people along the way. We will miss him deeply."
Llewellyn, working with John Wooden, a friend for more than 60 years, founded the John R. Wooden Award in 1976 and he stayed on board with the Award through this season, meeting with sponsors, the players and staff even as he fought several battles with cancer. Llewellyn and Coach Wooden insisted on the Award's commitment to community service that is still important today.
Llewellyn came to the LAAC in 1956 as director of athletics and advanced to a senior vice president role on a team with Frank and Charles Hathaway. At the Club, he staged the national championship for handball in 1956, and worked with Riviera Country Club, Rivera Tennis Club and the California Yacht Club in facility development.
Many stars in the sports world and Hollywood came to visit the LAAC because of Llewellyn. Additionally, he was always proud of the Olympic training programs he created that led to gold medals for many athletes, including Pat McCormick, Kathy Ferguson and Australian Olympic swimmer, Murray Rose.
Beyond his work with the LAAC for 50 years in many roles, among Llewellyn's eclectic contributions to sport include serving on the Board of Directors of the World Boxing Hall of Fame for more than 20 years; working as an attaché for his native Bermuda at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles; working as the director of the Southern California Tennis Association; and serving as a college, high school, and junior college football coach and official for several decades.
He was also a member of the 1984 Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games and spent several years in the 1950s as director of municipal sports for the LA City Parks and Recreation Department. In 2000, he was honored by the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles for his "unnoticed contributions to Nikkei sports."
As an athlete, Llewellyn competed in three sports at USC (football, track and basketball), earning a BA in physical education in 1940. He placed fourth in the decathlon at the 1936 Olympic Trials, and later played professional football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs, Hollywood Rangers, and Los Angeles Dons.
After training for combat in preparation for World War II, as a master sergeant in the Army, Llewellyn was involved in a landmine accident that damaged his leg. While sidelined, he created a sports program to help get troops in shape. He later recovered to become a boxer in the U.S. Army, fighting exhibition matches against World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis. Llewellyn was the 9th Service Command heavyweight boxing champion in 1944 and 1945.
Llewellyn leaves behind a large and loving family, including his longtime companion, Nancy Tew; children Mark, Mike and Debby; and many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are private. Details of a celebration of Duke's life will be forthcoming at www.woodenaward.com.
The Los Angeles Athletic Club inducted Llewellyn into its Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 1996, named it sports-themed restaurant, simply, "Duke's."