By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A Celebration of Life was held in honor of Dr. Christine Grant on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The event was open to the public and fans came to honor the trailblazing legend who passed away this past New Year’s Eve at the age of 85, and it caused me to think back to the day in 2001 when I drove to Christine Grant’s house in Coralville to interview her about multiple topics.
I was working at the Iowa City Press-Citizen at the time, and my assignment was to write about how Grant had become a trailblazer and a spokesperson for gender equity and fairness in college athletics, and how she had used her vast influence to help build the Iowa women’s athletic department during her 27 years as athletic director.
Grant had just recently retired as the Iowa women’s athletic director in 2000, so she was entering a new phase of life.
She still was teaching at the University of Iowa in the department of health and sports studies, a job she held until 2006, but her historic days as the Iowa women’s athletic director were over.
I remember not wanting to be a second late for the interview because that would’ve looked bad under any circumstance, but especially when interviewing a living legend.
Dr. Grant was ready for my arrival, and we then spent about one hour discussing her incredible journey through a life that had touched so many.
But we also talked about my life because Dr. Grant made sure that we did out of respect.
She had a curious side, but she mostly was just being kind.
I remember that she asked what year I was born, and I said 1963.
She then would go on to explain how different things were for female athletes back then compared to the time of this interview.
She talked about fairness and opportunity and about breaking down barriers and stereotypes.
Grant became Iowa’s first women’s athletic director in 1973, the year after federal Title IX legislation was passed requiring gender equity in college sports. Grant had testified before Congress several times advocating for the law, which was opposed by the NCAA.
She helped pave the way for the rise of women’s athletics by having the courage, vision and resolve that was needed to knock down doors.
She also stood tall for racial equality and fairness, using that same trailblazing mentality and spirit when hiring C. Vivian Stringer as the Iowa women’s basketball coach in 1983, and at a time when very few college athletic directors were hiring black head coaches.
Grant hired Stringer because Stringer was a rising star in the coaching profession, but also because it was the right thing to do at a time when few in college sports were hiring black head coaches.
Christine Grant spent her life breaking down barriers and empowering women.
She empowered women by taking on challenges that most were afraid to confront in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 2007, Grant became the fourth recipient of the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award.
The Gerald R. Ford Award, named in recognition of former President Gerald Ford, honors individuals who have provided significant leadership as an advocate for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis over the course of his or her career.
That same year she was named one of the 100 most influential sports educators in America by the Institute of International Sport.
While there is so much to remember about Dr. Christine Grant and how she helped to shape the college athletic landscape, her voice is also something I’ll never forget.
Born in Scotland in 1936, Grant had an accent that made her sound both dignified and soothing. You couldn’t help but feel relaxed in her presence, and in awe at the same time.
The University of Iowa was fortunate to have Dr. Christine Grant in a position of power at a time when college athletics was experiencing major changes, on and off the playing field.
Sunday’s celebration was Iowa’s way of showing its respect and admiration and saying thank you.