Yet more than three decades later, Hawthorne is not only still here. She's a staple and trusted voice in the Tribe's athletic department.
After coaching through the 2012 season, Hawthorne moved into administration as associate athletics director and senior woman administrator. She's been at the university longer than anyone else on the senior leadership team.
Hawthorne offers an institutional knowledge that cannot be overstated, especially in a department that has said goodbye to many of its veteran members in the last few years.
"Even though a lot has changed, she's such a constant," said Deidre Connelly, director of performance psychology and a longtime friend of Hawthorne's. "Peel is one of those people who is so fair-minded, but at the same time, she's so open-minded. What a great combination for a coach or administrator."
Jeremy P. Martin, W&M's interim athletics director, sees Hawthorne's value up close every day.
"Peel's perspective and insights are invaluable," Martin said. "She's earned the trust and respect of the coaches during her more than 30 years at William & Mary. She brings that wealth of experience, as a coach and administrator, to every decision."
Sure, there's more to Peel Hawthorne than her connection to William & Mary. She's been a licensed pilot (50 solo hours, she estimates) and a certified athletic trainer. Her first job, as a high school junior, was at King's Dominion as a guitarist in a bluegrass band called Dusty Roads.
But here's a fact: Starting with her time as a student athlete, Hawthorne has been at William & Mary in one capacity or another for 38 of her 45 years as an adult. So, yeah, she's pure green and gold.
Hawthorne arrived in the spring of 1976 as a recruited field hockey and lacrosse player. (Back then, personnel in those sports almost completely overlapped). In her four seasons as a field hockey defender, the Tribe allowed 0.92 goals per game and went 52-13-7, twice making the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Nationals.
Hawthorne also captained the lacrosse team that finished fifth in the US Women's Lacrosse Championship her senior year.
Then came those seven years elsewhere, the final four coming as head field hockey and lacrosse coach at Connecticut College, where she went a combined 66-32-5. Then came a call from Millie West, an associate athletics director at William & Mary. There was an opening for head field hockey coach and lacrosse assistant.
Hawthorne wasn't looking to leave Connecticut, but this was William & Mary. In addition to that, her family was only an hour up I-64 in Richmond.
"I was very happy in New England and I loved working at Connecticut College," she said. "But when your alma mater calls, it always holds a special place. I had such a great experience here as a student-athlete that I guess I was always seeking that same kind of experience wherever I went."
In 26 seasons as W&M's field hockey coach, from 1987-2012, Hawthorne won a school-record 275 games and made two NCAA tournament appearances, both as an at-large selection. She was named Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year three times.
There was a time when Hawthorne considered moving on, maybe even changing careers. It was around 1993, the year after her father died of cancer. She was answering to the kinesiology department, to the athletics department, to field hockey, and to lacrosse.
But things started to change. Field hockey and lacrosse, joined at the hip for years, became separate entities and coaches were relieved of their teaching assignments in kinesiology. Hawthorne was allowed to concentrate on her job as head field hockey coach and hire some quality assistants.
One was an Australian named Tess Ellis, who Hawthorne hired virtually sight-unseen. She even gave her a place to stay.
"She literally picked me up at the train station, and all I had was a backpack," Ellis said. "She said, 'Well, I hope you don't mind living over my garage with a couple of roommates.' I was like, 'Sure, I don't care.'
"Peel took a risk on me. I had worked a camp here for U.S. Field Hockey. She knew me the one week I was here and that I had been an assistant (for one season) at Salisbury."
Ellis quickly became Hawthorne's right hand.
"When Tess came," Hawthorne said, "is when things started to stabilize for me."
Ellis was Hawthorne's assistant for 16 seasons, which were divided into three stints. Although neither knew it at the time, they coached their last game together on Nov. 2, 2012, a 3-2 loss to Delaware in the CAA tournament.
In the summer of 2013, William & Mary had an opening for an associate athletics director for student services & senior woman administrator — the latter a title created by the NCAA in 1981 to designate the highest-ranking female in athletic administration. Then-AD Terry Driscoll took that opportunity to meet with every coach and ask what they believed the position should look like.
"I was the last person he interviewed, and instead of talking to me about it, he described what he wanted it to look like," Hawthorne said. "I said, 'Were you thinking of me?' He sort of smiled and nodded and said, 'Yes.' So I took it."
The news was announced on Aug. 23 — seven days before the team's season opener. Fortunately, there was someone on staff more than ready to take over.
"I wanted Tess to be the head coach very much," Hawthorne said. "And that was my recommendation."
In her seven seasons as head coach, Ellis has been named CAA Coach of the Year four times. And Hawthorne has found her new niche.
"When I first moved to administration, I used to constantly thank Terry for the opportunity because I was enjoying the job so much," she said. "I felt I could be effective in making decisions that could benefit the department and make strong connections with our campus partners."
In 2019, during a department reorganization, Hawthorne's job title was changed to senior advisor to athletics. Last month, it became senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator.
Martin has come to rely on Hawthorne during a challenging time for W&M athletics.
"Since assuming the senior associate AD role, Peel has jumped in with both feet," he said. "There's so much going on and she hasn't missed a beat, although I know she's being asked to do a lot.
"She's green and gold through and through. People recognize that immediately, which has made her transition seamless."
Institutional knowledge goes a long way.
"Peel bleeds green and gold in the sense that she bleeds the values of this institution," Ellis said. "When we talk about integrity and honesty, Peel's that person.
"She's so humble. She works so hard behind the scenes to make things happen that half the time I don't think people know it was Peel who made it happen."