November 12, 2018
In his new memoir, Ed Dawkins ’55 recalls a unique and adventurous life, including vivid memories of his time as an Ursinus student.
-By Geoff Gehman
Ed Dawkins ’55 asked his wife, Bev ’56, to photograph him a half hour after he was savaged by a shark. He wasn’t in shock. He wasn’t trying to comfort his shocked spouse. He simply wanted to show the world, and remind himself, what it looks like when your face and upper body are rearranged by predatory teeth.
Somewhat immunized to pain by a host of nasty wrestling injuries, Dawkins had the calm clarity to quip about his scary condition. “If you think I look bad,” he told Bev before she snapped a memento, “you should see the shark!”
This real tall tale surfaces in Reckless But Lucky (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), Dawkins’s new autobiography of anecdotes about his adventures as a herpetologist, hand surgeon and bull rider in life’s rodeo. Brimming with irreverent wit and reverent wonder, he writes of repairing Vietnam soldiers, dodging a stampede of wild beasts and turning the Ursinus campus into an amusement park for pranks. He essentially casts himself as Walter Mitty rewritten by Ernest Hemingway.
“My life has been all about doing your own thing, going your own way, not getting caught up in other people’s paths for you,” says Dawkins from his 30-acre, savannah-like spread in Winters, Calif. “Embracing your passion, indulging in your imagination, putting everything aside to grab ahold of something special and damning the consequences.”
At Ursinus, he spread his intrepid spirit as a dean’s list student, a champion wrestler who didn’t lose a point as a senior, a fishing instructor for the faculty’s children and a peerless prankster. Football players and cops were recruited to remove a cow he hauled into an upper-floor dining hall. Not only was he not suspended for his tomfoolery, he says, he was rewarded. Stieb Pancoast, the college’s dean of men and baseball coach, allowed Dawkins to compete in a wrestling tournament after narrowly escaping a bucket of water tipped by Dawkins at his person.
Five years after graduating from Ursinus, Dawkins was hit by an underwater train. The surgical intern was spear fishing in Panama when a shark slammed him out of the blue. Luckily for him, the predator was content to eat his face mask, mistaking it for human flesh. A week after receiving over 100 stitches, he appeared in a photo in Life magazine, which was tracking shark attacks. Head wrapped in bandages, looking like a wounded mummy, he was saluted by the headline “Reckless, But Lucky.”
He writes vividly about tying chipmunks to his clothes to attract snakes at a reptile-repository, pinning wrestlers with a novel grip too painful to escape, jumping with Bev onto a tree stump in a barren river plain to avoid a herd of javelina frightened by gunshots. His memoir doubles as a love letter to his wife, a retired teacher of general science and biology and mother of their three children.
“Life is so full if you allow it to be and one of the bonuses, one of the gifts, is that stories just bubble up until you’re buried in them,” he says.