NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Minutes before kickoff of the Vanderbilt-Connecticut football game Oct. 2, Commodore athletic director Candice Lee walked toward a very special guest seated on the field behind the South End Zone.
It wasn’t a prize recruit or a high-powered alum Lee wanted to meet. It was Dot Poag, a woman whose career, in many ways, made Lee’s possible.
But at age 91, it was Poag who was most thrilled about the chance to chat with Lee. Weeks earlier, her family had written the athletic department explaining that Poag’s greatest wish was to meet the first woman athletic director at Vanderbilt and in the SEC.
If American culture had been different back in the 1950s, ‘60s and 70s, maybe it would have been Poag who would have had an opportunity to lead the department she loved with all her heart.
Starting her career at Vanderbilt fresh out of business school in 1949, Poag went on to become the Vanderbilt Athletic Department’s longest-tenured employees and one of its most valuable, known by colleagues as “Miss Fix It” for her ability to solve any problem. In an official thirty-five year career in the business and ticket offices (including as manager of both departments) topped off with two more decades as a part-time employee and volunteer, Poag was the most prominent woman in the department for decades and an invaluable, behind-the-scenes leader who helped make everything run long before Vanderbilt offered women’s athletics or employed many women other than as secretaries.
For her tireless, unheralded and longstanding service to Commodore athletics, Poag will be inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday.
When Lee called Poag’s niece, Debbie Catron, to share the good news, Catron was away from the phone and was shocked when she listened to her voicemail.
“I immediately ran to my sister-in-law’s house next door and we all cried,” Catron said. “Dot, in her humble-spirited voice, said, ‘Well, that is something else. This is a big deal, isn’t it?’ ”
A big deal indeed and one made more special given the timing. The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that ushered in a new era of women’s intercollegiate athletics.
Long before Vanderbilt welcomed female varsity athletes, Poag was an instrumental part of the business operations of the department. When she retired in 1984, then-athletic director Roy Kramer said it was, “the most significant retirement in Vanderbilt history.”
It was a sentiment shared by many.
“Everyone from chancellors, deans, coaches, professors, students and fans all loved Dot Poag,” Catron said. “She had a magnetism that just drew people to her. Her tenure there was exciting, rewarding, and they always treated her like she was valuable to the Athletic Department. She said she never wanted to work anywhere else but Vanderbilt.”
And Vanderbilt is lucky for that.