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  • Kevin Elliott

Pete Dawkins

Retired Brigadier General Pete Dawkins was an avid competitor from a young age.

"I would compete at anything, and enthusiastically so," Dawkins said in September, prior to Cranbrook's 2018 homecoming game where the school retired the Heisman Trophy winner's high school jersey.

Stricken by polio as a youngster, Dawkins was the smallest player on the football team when he received an academic scholarship to Cranbrook at his mother's relentless persistence. Despite lagging in grades and size, he graduated in 1955 as an all-league quarterback and captain of the baseball team.

"I realized I was hopeless at the size I was, so I decided I was going to get bigger. Even before I went to Cranbrook, I saw a Charles Atlas ad in the back of Popular Mechanics. I read all about it and sent it in, but it wasn't much help."

Unable to afford a set of weights, Dawkins crafted his own barbell set with a lead pipe and concrete-filled coffee cans. Weighing in at 105 pounds his freshman year, Dawkins beefed up to 185 pounds by the time he graduated. After Cranbrook, he turned down acceptance at Yale University to attend West Point, where he continued his athletics and weight training, going so far as to hide disassembled barbells under his mattress and lifting at night against regulations.

"I was really kind of crazed in terms of my desire to compete," he said. "I was a little unbalanced, probably, but it seemed to serve me OK."

Playing as a 210-pound halfback, Dawkins went on to win the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and was selected for the All-America team in 1958. He also served as assistant captain of the hockey team and won honors in rugby. In addition, he served as president of his class, captain of the football team, served as a Brigade Commander and was in the top five percent of his class academically. As the only cadet to hold all positions at once, he was featured in Life Magazine and Reader's Digest.

After graduation from the Military Academy, Dawkins was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and later went on to earn advanced degrees in Economics, Public Affairs and International Affairs, the latter from Princeton University.

During his military career, Dawkins earned two Bronze Stars for Valor, and held several distinguished positions. After retiring from the Army in 1983, he took a position as a partner at Lehman Brothers, later becoming vice-chairman of Bain & Company, CEO of Primerica, and held other positions in the financial industry.

Throughout the years, Dawkins has credited Cranbrook and coach Fred Campbell's tutelage as major factors in his success.

"He was a very demanding and tough personality, but for whatever reason he kind of took me under his wing early on," Dawkins said of Campbell. "We built a bond there and he really challenged me, and demanded a lot of me. Like so many good coaches and teachers, he was also remarkably supportive."

To pay homage to his teachers, Dawkins established the Frances Miller Dawkins Excellence in Teaching Award, which provides an annual stipend to one teacher selected by students, staff and faculty. While he said the school initially pushed back on the single stipend, he was able to sway administrators.

"Finally I said, 'I don't want to be a bully, but I'm willing to give you a big chunk of change to fund this 'thank you,' or I'm going to give you nothing,'" he said. "That was a compelling argument."

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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