In the 54 years since she arrived at the College of William and Mary, honorary graduate Millie West ’91 has seen her fair share of change.
“When I came, you weren’t allowed on campus in shorts; you had to wear a coat over any kind of physical education outfit you had on. … There were no co-ed dorms,” West said. “It’s just unending, all the changes.”
West, who will serve as Grand Marshal in Friday’s Homecoming parade, has experienced changes in her role at the College as well. Serving as an instructor, coach, administrator and fundraiser for the College, West also played an instrumental role in improving funding and opportunities for women in athletics. She received an honorary degree from on the College in 1991.
When she started coaching, women’s sports had very little funding; teams lacked equipment and modes of transportation other than coaches’ cars, West said. She cited Title IX as the beginning of a shift in improving the view of women’s athletics at the College — but change was not immediate.
“Title IX had a huge impact once it got teeth in the implementation of it,” West said. “For a while, it just floated around. Everyone said ‘What does this mean? What are we supposed to do with it?’ Finally in the late ’70s, early ’80s, everybody started to understand what it was and tried to make amends to correct some of the things that were wrong.”
West said she has enjoyed watching the athletic programs grow and seeing the increase in opportunities for female athletes in the years since its implementation.
In addition to advocating women’s athletics, West launched the swimming program and served as head coach of the women’s tennis team. The College’s tennis facility was renamed in her honor in 2010. West also continues to direct the annual Plumeri Pro-Am golf tournament, which raises money for the school’s athletic programs.
West said she has enjoyed spending her career in Williamsburg, where she also met her husband. She said she feels the College is truly unlike any other university.
“As the word goes, there is only one William and Mary,” West said. “I think the thing that sets it apart is the total picture. … We have some wonderful students who come here, who push everybody, and that’s the way I feel about the College in my role. I was pushed beyond what I thought was my ability.”
As for this weekend’s activities, West looks forward to reuniting with former teams and students. A former tennis player nominated West to serve as grand marshal, which she said she considers an honor.
College President Taylor Reveley said he views West as a good choice for the position.
“Millie West is the perfect grand marshal for this year’s Homecoming festivities,” Reveley said in a statement. “For more than half a century, Millie has been a power and an inspiration at William & Mary. She’s been a successful coach, a vital senior administrator, and the galvanizing force for women’s athletics at the College. Few can match her service and devotion to our campus community.”