Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Passing of a True Leader

The world has lost a true leader with the death of Pat Summitt, former Lady Vols basketball coach and the winningest coach in any college sport, period. She was the face of collegiate women's basketball for more than 40 years as a player, Olympian, and coach. Her accomplishments earned her a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and status as one of the most beloved public figures in Tennessee history. There is some common ground between the UT Women's basketball program and the Knoxville Symphony.

As part of a strong tradition of hosting celebrity guest conductors at the annual Ijams Nature Center concerts, Ms. Summitt led the KSO in an unforgettable rendition of The Tennessee Waltz in Sept. of ‘97. Before she gave the downbeat, however, she made an amusing “substitution.” She called out then-principal flutist Rob Cronin and instructed second flutist Jennifer Regan to take over first flute, claiming that Rob was suffering from a condition she called “loser’s limp.” During the ensuing performance, Pat looked at Larisa Bairomova and I on the front stand of cellos, and with arms waving, asked “How am I doing?” but the look on her face clearly indicated “WHAT am I doing?” I thank the day that I decided to become a musician, for it led me to that point where I would be sharing the stage with such a strong leader.

My wife and I would later be in contact with Ms. Summitt at AYSO soccer and Knox Youth Sports basketball games, where she graciously shared her knowledge of athletics and competition. She was the most amazing “soccer mom” you could ever wish to meet. Our son Thomas played with (and alas, against) her son Tyler in various venues across the county. I was just tickled pink one day when she approached me postgame with a box of Krispy Kremes. The smile on her face was just as radiant and real as her infamous “game face” stare was menacing. It was fulfilling to be acquainted with that side of her.

Memorial gifts may be made to The Pat Summitt Foundation by visiting www.patsummitt.org/donate .

The stare...

...and the smile of success

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