If you ever meet Millie West, you will know immediately she loves William & Mary. What you might not realize is that she did not actually go to school here. But with a half century of service to the university as coach, administrator and fundraiser, West is very much a member of the Tribe, having created a lasting impact on the athletics department. West was deemed an honorary alumna in 1991 and next week, she will reside as grand marshal for Homecoming 2013.
“It is a huge honor and extremely humbling to be in the company of the outstanding grand marshals who have served in this capacity before me,” West said. “It was a complete surprise and in all my dreams I never, ever expected such an honor.”
West wanted to attend William & Mary after high school, but was offered a work-study scholarship by Georgia State College for Women. When she visited GSCW, she had such a good time, that she never applied to William & Mary.
“I probably couldn’t have gotten in anyway!” West admits.
After completing her undergrad, West was offered a graduate assistantship at the University of Maryland. It was after graduate school that an opening in the physical education department at William & Mary was brought to her attention by her professors at GSCW. With their support, she applied and got the job.
“I met my husband, Marvin ’52, on a blind date at the end of my first year,” West said. “Our marriage in 1966 happily anchored me here.”
When West arrived at the university in 1959, there was a need to expand opportunities and increase funding for women at William & Mary. West says that programs in physical education, athletics and intramurals for women were already in place, but were meagerly funded. “It became an obsession to do what I could to change that.”
Funding did improve, but not fast enough to fund the programs the students wanted and deserved. West, who says she always has been persistent and determined, took on fundraising projects, with a dedicated team of athletics staff and William & Mary alumni working with her on the cause. Their efforts led to their hosting of the Wrightman Cup, a biennial U.S.-Great Britain women’s tennis tournament; the tournament was held in Williamsburg four years during the 1980s. Also, the Plumeri Pro-Am was established, a golf tournament that annually raises funds for the university’s athletics program. West coordinated William & Mary’s Indoor Tennis Center Project, which brought the McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center, a state-of-the-art indoor tennis facility, to Williamsburg. Fundraising drives were held to raise money for the first athletic scholarships for women.
“When Title IX was enacted, it was a perfect platform to work from,” said West. “It helped tremendously in improving programs and facilities. None of this was easy, but I was driven to improve opportunities, funding and the climate for women in athletics. Many since my tenure have continued to improve all aspects of women’s athletics on campus.”
During West’s time at W&M, she started the swimming program and served as coach, as well head coach of the women’s tennis program, leading them to a third-place finish in the AIAW Small College National Championships in 1979. During her coaching career, her teams won 90 percent of their matches. West also held the title of associate athletics director and the director of special projects. She was a 1998 inductee of the ITA Women’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame at the McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center and is also the curator. She’s also a member of the William & Mary Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2010, the College’s tennis facility was renamed in honor of West.
“Honestly, I’m not so sure how much I have done, but I only wish I could have done more!” West said. “What makes this place so special is the outstanding students, coaches and all of the friends I have made over my 54 years. I have learned so much and they have helped me tremendously. If I have done a lot, I didn’t do it without a lot of help from others. I had the support of a wonderful staff and many generous alumni.”
West’s time at William & Mary is very special to her and it remains a place she cherishes.
“I couldn’t begin to single out a most memorable moment; every moment and every year has been special. This is where I grew up and my personal motto has been to ‘bloom where you are planted.’ I truly care about and love this place. And I have gotten so much more from William & Mary than I have given.”
West will be honored as Grand Marshal in the Homecoming Parade on Fri., Oct. 25, starting at 4:30 p.m. A live video stream will be available at wmalumni.com. The parade route and additional information is available at wmhomecoming.com.