Gill Donaldson: Olympic Gold Medalist, Good Neighbor and Friend
By Harold Miller
Gillian Donaldson of Auburn was 11 years old when World War II started. The “Battle of Britain” lasted five bloody years thereafter.
She and her family had lasted through World War II.
They knew their London home wasn’t safe when the bombs started falling. Her parents arranged for Gill — as she was known — and her sister to be evacuated to the country. It was difficult to find accommodations. They finally ended up at a school in Gloustershire, not far from a naval base where the cadets were being taught swordsmanship by a displaced Czechoslovakian ex-foreign legion master of arms named Karel Pollak.
Thanks to a member of the school board, Pollak was persuaded to be an instructor at Gill’s school. He signed her up to take fencing lessons, as it was “good for the figure.”
Gill, who would go on to win the medal in fencing at the 1956 Summer Olympic games in Melbourne, Australia, came to America to a course at Eastman Dental Dispensary in Rochester.
There, she met Bob Donaldson. They had four children: Bruce, Jane, David and John.
By this point, Gill had traveled extensively with her fencing career. There was a great exhibition match in Toronto for the Canadian National Exhibition. She was asked to fence in a ‘man vs. woman’ bout against an Italian, Edoardo Mangiarotti. He was quite the showman. She always said Mangiarotti was so gracious and let her get a few hits in before “he landed the last hit, whipped off his mask and kissed her to great applause; a true showman.”
She went on to Queens College and then the University College of Dentistry in London.
Gill told me how her father thought of America as “the country of the future.” She studied for a year at the Eastman Dental Dispensary as there was affiliation with that school in London. Bob Donaldson followed her back to England and did a year of his studies; really enjoying it, but always knowing in his heart that he must return to America.
They were both heartbroken after he returned to Rochester. Gill fenced again in competition, but her heart just was not in it anymore. After much reflection and agonizing, she telephoned the love of her life. Long story short, they were married four months later.
This lovely woman belied her age of 92 when she died last July 5 after a last swim in her beloved Owasco Lake.