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Olympian Maria Cerra Tishman dies at 96

Maria Cerra Tishman
Maria Cerra Tishman

Maria Cerra Tishman died at the age of 96

Maria Cerra Tishman, a US Olympic foilist who finished 4th at the 1948 Olympics, died on Jan. 24, 2015 at the age of 96 years old.

In 1948, Maria earned a berth on the U.S. Olympic fencing team for the 14th Olympic Games at London. In London, Maria advanced through three preliminary rounds to reach the final of eight in the individual foil. There, she missed winning the Olympic championship by two touches. In what proved to be the final’s decisive bout, Maria met Ilona Elek, the defending Olympic foil champion from 1936 and the eventual winner in 1948.

Both fencers held records of five victories and one defeat. After taking an initial 2-0 lead in the four touch bout, Maria lost, 4-2, and finished in a three-way tie for second place; ultimately taking fourth place after a count of touches received and touches scored. To date, this remains the highest Olympic accomplishment in foil by a U.S. woman. The 1948 Olympics was Maria’s first and only international individual competition. (See a photo from the 1948 Olympics at the Museum of American Fencing)

In the more than sixty years following, Maria contributed her time frequently and generously to bout committee and administrative work for the Fencers Club, the National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association and the Amateur Fencers League of America (now known as the U.S. Fencing Association).

Maria del Pilar Cerra was born May 17, 1918 and began fencing in 1928 at age 9 at the Salle Vince, originally in Brooklyn and later, New York. There, her coaches were Joseph Vince, Celestino Fernandez, and her father, Julio A. Cerra (who was an amateur competitor). It was not uncommon for Maria to receive a lesson from each of them in a single evening of practice.

Maria continued with the sport at Hunter College, coached by Joseph Smith, and was a member of the IWFA (now NIWFA) intercollegiate championship team twice (1937 and 1940) and also won the IWFA individual intercollegiate championship twice (1938 and 1940).

When Salle Vince closed in 1941 (and later moved to California), Maria fenced at Salle Santelli, in New York, where she was coached by George Santelli; and then joined the New York Fencers Club, where she was coached by Rene Pinchart.

Between 1935 and 1947 Maria was a member of the AFLA national championship foil team a total of nine times for her three clubs. In 1945, she won the AFLA national individual foil championship and took third place on four other occasions.

Among other distinctions:

  • 1938 National Collegiate Champion
  • 1948 – First woman named to the Board of Directors of the Fencers Club.
  • 1949 – First woman to officiate at the U.S. National Fencing Championships.
  • 1963 – Charter inductee to the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame
  • From 1965-1968, Maria served as the first woman named to the U.S. Olympic Fencing Committee, where she championed an international selection system for U.S. teams based exclusively on earned points.
  • In 1969, Maria was an early recipient of the NIWFA Founders Award for Meritorious Service, presented by Julia Jones, the founder and first champion of the IWFA.
  • First inductee to the Hunter College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982
  • From 1984 to 1999, Maria officiated at New Jersey high school dual meets around the northeast part of the state with the most highly developed interscholastic fencing program in the country.

Maria has been a resident of Glen Rock, NJ, since 1953 and was an elementary school teacher in the Oakland (NJ) School District for 20 years, until retiring in 1984.Prior to marriage she had a business career that included serving as insurance manager for the American Union Transport Shipping Company in New York.

Her late husband, Peter Tishman, was the former treasurer of the Amateur Fencers League of America and all three of their sons fenced for New York University.

Maria is survived by two of her sons, Jeffrey Tishman, of Glen Rock, NJ, and Thomas Tishman, of Mendham, NJ; and three grandchildren: Jonathan Tishman, Maggie Tishman, and Rebecca Tishman. Another son, Daniel, died in 1979.

The family will receive visitors on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015, from 2 PM to 4 PM and 7 PM to 9 PM at the Vander Plaat-Caggiano Funeral Home in Fair Lawn, NJ. [13-31 Saddle River Road, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410]

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