Science Meets Art: The Lorna Dyer And John Carrell Story

The daughter of Veda (Williams) and Merritt Gibson Dyer, Lorna Virginia Dyer was born July 3, 1945 in Seattle, Washington and grew up in the suburb of Magnolia. When her father was a junior honors student at the University Of Washington in the roaring twenties, his widowed mother lost everything in the stock market crash and he dropped out of school. He gave up his dream of being an engineer to become a court reporter. Lorna first took the ice when she was in the Brownies and received her first lessons from a skating enthusiast named Carol Mittun.

On January 25, 1947, John Carrell, the adopted son of James and Helen (Baldwin) Carrell, was born. Like Lorna, he grew up in Seattle. His parents had moved to the state of Washington from Oregon, having grown up in Nebraska and Wisconsin. As a teenager, John attended Roosevelt High School. John's brother Jim recalled, "My father was a professor of speech and hearing at the University of Washington, and my mother was a speech therapist for the Seattle Public School system. From an early age, he showed a talent and interest in dancing, and before he started skating, I remember he took dance lessons at the Cornish. He began skating probably at nine or ten."

Marsha Deen, Buddy Zack, Joyce Butchart, Ed Tarling, Lorna Dyer, King Cole, Sharon Ayres, Joe Surace, Suzanne Vieux and Steve Kraemer posing at a Seattle Skating Club carnival. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Lorna got her big break in 1962, when she finished third with partner King Cole in the Gold (senior) Dance event at the U.S. Championships. It was her very first trip to Nationals, and she and King actually tied with the second place team (Dorothyann Nelson and Pieter Kollen) in the free dance and missed a spot on World team by one point. One judge had them first. The absence of the skaters, coaches and officials who perished in the Sabena Crash one year prior was palpable at those U.S. Championships in Boston. Lorna had dated Bill Hickox, who was one of the unfortunate victims in the tragedy. The two met in Sun Valley, where Lorna went in the summers to train with her first coach. "The plane crash enabled you to move up the ladder faster - so instead of coming in fifth, you came in second or something," Lorna recalled. "I'd say the plane crash gave me - sadly - the opportunity to fill the void, so to speak."

Lorna Dyer and King Cole in 1962 (left) and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell in 1962 (right). Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In the summer of 1962, Lorna and King won their final competition together, the Gold Free Dance at the B.C. Summer Invitational Championships. Thayer and Yvonne Sherman Tutt had offered to sponsor Lorna and King to skate at the Broadmoor, but Lorna didn't want to leave her coach Jean Westwood. King went to the Broadmoor and teamed up with Mary Ann Cavanaugh and later, Ardith Paul and Lorna was paired up with John, who had finished third in the Silver Dance event at the 1962 Northwest Pacific Championships with Allana Mittun. Lorna recalled, "It was a better relationship. John was a funny, wonderful guy. He kept me laughing constantly. He used to sit down on is skates
and raise his hands as 'claws' and sneak up behind me and scare me or when 'lurking' (which was a phenomenon in the sixties) he would hide behind a wall or post and lean his hands and head around and wait for me to see him. Just a dislocated head and hands."

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

In their first two seasons skating together, Lorna and John won a pair of bronze medals at the U.S. Championships and finished eighth and fifth in their first two trips to the World Championships. A pattern that would be all too familiar throughout their career together began at the 1964 World Championships in Dortmund. Though only third in their own country, they were the top ranked U.S. couple in the eyes of the international judges.

Left: Lorna and John on the cover of "Skating" magazine. Photo courtesy Lorna Dyer. Right: Lorna Dyer and John Carrell.

In 1965, Lorna and John finished second at the U.S. Championships but won the North American Championships and the bronze medal at the World Championships. It was America's first medal in ice dance at Worlds since 1959 and came only four years after the Sabena Crash which had decimated the ranks of American ice dancing.

Left: Peggy Fleming and Lorna Dyer at the 1965 World Championships. Right: Lorna and John posing at ages eighteen and sixteen. Photo courtesy Lorna Dyer.

Though they were sponsored by the Broadmoor Skating Club throughout their career, Lorna and John did much of their training in Canada. Lorna recalled, "After spending so much time in Canada and knowing so many wonderful people there, I feel just as Canadian as American. I love Canada and Canadians. Back then, we commuted - first by driving, then by flying - to Canada to train with Jean every weekend. It was very, very expensive. We rented an ice arena up there [in Victoria] and lived with her in the summer. We followed her when she went to the Broadmoor in '64 and went to the University Of Colorado. Then, a tornado hit Colorado and she freaked out. Being English, of course, they don't have those sorts of things, so she moved back to Victoria - so we followed her back again. She was really the best coach in the world at the time, and you just don't give that up. It was just luck that she moved to the area and we met her, so we didn't want to lose her. We would have followed her anywhere."

About two years into Lorna and John's partnership, they had taken a break and decided to go skate in Sun Valley for the summer. When they returned, they found out Jean Westwood and Charles Phillips Jr. had taken on Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum as their pupils. Fortune and Sveum were also from the West Coast (hailing from California) and were around the same ages as Lorna and John, but that was about all they had in common. Kristin was a feisty drama student and bidding fashion designer; Dennis a tall, lanky salesman at Montgomery Ward. Lorna and John were both students at the University Of Washington. She studied biology; he political science. Sharing a coach with their closest competition proved to be challenging at times.

Photos courtesy University Of Washington

Lorna and John lost the U.S. title to Kristin and John for the second time in 1966. At the World Championships that followed in Davos, they tied with them in places and had more points than them, but narrowly lost the silver medal in a split of the judging panel. Though the loss was difficult, history was made at that competition. However, behind the scenes there was controversy. Jean Westwood recalled, "Davos 1966 I will never forget. I was approached by an ISU official to see if I could arrange either of the North American judges to place Carrell and Dyer in first as the Eastern bloc were behind them. I refused. I have never played politics and never will. I would not favor one of my couples over the other. I would never approach either of the two judges involved even though I knew one did favor Carrell and Dyer... By the time the free dance was over the judges battle was finished and the first [compulsory] dance result held up. Gladys Hogg congratulated me on my two teams and I replied that she had been the coach of the top five teams!"

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

It was the first time ever that two American teams were ever 'officially' on the podium at Worlds, as the international dance event held in conjunction with the 1950 World Championships in London where two American couples had medalled wasn't deemed an official World Championship by the ISU. Kristin and Dennis ended their partnership after the 1966 Worlds. Lorna recalled, "I decided to quit in 1966, and John started skating with Kristin then for a short while but he could not stand her, and he and Jean persuaded me to skate with John one last year... and I did and I am very happy I did." Ultimately, Kristin got married and moved to Denver. Dennis briefly paired up with Barbara McEvoy but was drafted to serve with the Special Services in the Vietnam War. Their departure from the U.S. dance scene paved the way for Lorna and John's most successful season ever.

Top: John Carrell, Lorna Dyer, Diane Towler, Bernard Ford, Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum at the 1966 World Championships in Davos. Bottom: John Carrell, Lorna Dyer and U.S. team manager Carl Cram at the 1967 World Championships in Vienna. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1967, Lorna and John were the unanimous winners of both the U.S. and North American Championships. The 1967 World Championships in Vienna were the last Worlds held on outdoor ice and it rained incessantly during much of the dance competition. Despite the weather, Lorna and John skated incredibly well, dancing up a storm in their free dance set to a medley that included Santo & Johnny's "Deep Purple" and Herb Alpert's "Bittersweet Samba".

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

The North American judges had Lorna and John first, but they finished second overall behind Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Those Worlds were the first where lifts were permitted in the free dance. "It was very controversial," Lorna remembered. "We had a lot of rules when I was skating. You couldn't let go except to change position. You couldn't do much and it was very stiff. I look at [when I was skating] and now - even when Torvill and Dean were skating - so much changed. The rules and music changed - dance really loosened up and evolved for the better."

After the 1967 World Championships, the National Skating Union Of Japan asked the U.S. World Team to give a series of eight exhibitions and two clinics in Japan. Lorna recalled, "They flew Ron and Cindy Kauffman, Peggy Fleming, John and me and Gary Visconti to Japan and we toured. It was our world team and not some other country's that was invited as we had the most medals that year at Worlds. We received some beautiful gifts, including a specially created green vase with an ice skater on it. We had a blast, but odd at that age, we looked forward to [a stop in] Hawaii the most." Some of Lorna's favourite skating memories came from the post-Worlds ISU exhibition tours organized by the West Germans. John once got an eyeful of Sjoukje Dijkstra changing in a dressing room and in one hotel stop, Lorna was the only one with a bathroom. A few eyebrows were raised when the entire cast of the show - including, of course, the men - emerged from her room in towels and robes after showering there. In Davos in 1966, Doris Fleming absolutely forbade her daughter Peggy from doing anything that might injure her, as the Olympics were in less than two years. Lorna and Peggy stuck off with a group of skaters and went careening down a luge run. "We thought - 'Oh, what would Doris do to us!' We had fun, but she could have broken a leg or something." Competitions also made for some funny memories. Lorna recalled a hilarious incident from the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs thusly: "Emmerich Danzer was taught by this big Austrian woman and he was afraid of her because she'd hit him if he didn't do well. He had skated a poor figure and instead of getting off the ice at the closest entrance he skated all the way to the other side of the ice arena and got off. I looked up and it was because this big Austrian coach was after him."

Not all of Lorna and John's skating adventures were fun and games. Lorna recalled, "The KGB of the Soviet Union was very active when we skated. Aleksandr Gorelik (silver in the 1968 Olympics) and I kept trying to date but the KGB was fearful he would defect to the U.S. if he had a contact like me. They monitored him closely. In Vienna (1967) he bribed a U.S. male pair team skater with a bottle of vodka to find my hotel room. On entering the room - in about thirty seconds - the phone rang and it was the KGB telling Aleksandr to leave. Then we exhibited in Moscow after Vienna and Aleksandr snuck up the entryway to the ice and handed me flowers, but I looked back into the walkway and there was a woman KGB agent. They then cancelled the post ice show party due to this incident."

Top: Lorna Dyer and John Carrell at a party, circa 1974. Bottom Peggy Fleming, Ron Kauffman, Lorna Dyer, John Carrell and Cynthia Kauffman in Hawaii in 1967. Photos courtesy Lorna Dyer. 

After the 1967 season, Lorna and John turned down an offer to skate with the Ice Capades. Lorna and John both finished their educations at the University of Washington and then Lorna got married and shipped off to Florida, where her husband was training to be a flight surgeon in the Vietnam War. John headed east and took up a job coaching skating, but was soon soured on teaching because of a very difficult parent. He left the sport behind and reinvented himself as a ballet dancer, going by the stage name John Aubrey. He danced with a ballet troupe in New York before joining the National Ballet Of Canada, where he performed for seven years alongside a who's who of Canadian dance throughout the seventies. He left the ballet in 1980 and returned to coaching for a time and sadly passed away on September 20, 1989 at the age of forty two from complications of HIV/AIDS - one of dozens upon dozens of amazing skaters who lost their lives during that painful era. Lorna recalled, "People were in the closet in those days. You know skating - maybe a third of men might be gay. It was never an issue with me. I kind of knew but we never talked about it. It was just very quiet in those days. Everybody knew but nobody cared. He was just John. He was like a brother and I loved him very much."

John Carrell. Photo courtesy Jim Carrell.

After retiring from competitive skating, Lorna worked as a biology teacher, sharing her passion for science with high school students for twenty years. In 1985, she won the prestigious Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for Washington state, awarded by the National Association of Biology Teachers. In her last eight years of public education employment she was a grant writer for the Northshore School District. She spent four years as a science trainer for the state of Washington, running a co-operative that served thirty three school districts and provided continuing training for teachers before becoming a full-time grant writer. For over two decades, she spent her summer breaks in Sun Valley, Idaho, teaching skating. In 1980, she penned an instructional book called "Ice Dancing Illustrated". It was a project that took seven years to complete. Lorna remarked, "I hope [the book] captures the technical information for dance compulsories that Jean Westwood imparted to me. Her information came largely from the legendary Gladys Hogg of Great Britain who trained many world champions including Towler and Ford of England. I did not make money off this book but I wanted to capture what I thought was the best information on ice dance for posterity. I was greatly aided by a pupil of mine, Dr. Harry Brandt, who knew just enough about ice dance to ask the right questions when he did not understand what I had written. He was an invaluable editor." Lorna is now retired, living with her husband in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Lorna and John were nominated for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Sports Star Of The Year Award in 1967 but despite the fact they were U.S and North American Champions and three time World Medallists, they have yet to be inducted to either the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame or Washington Sports Hall Of Fame. Ice dancing may have changed a lot since the sixties, but in their era they were without question one of the finest couples in the world - one that combined the science and art of skating.

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