|By Jim Carnett |
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 37th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
Susan Brown is a leader.
Her administrative achievements throughout her 31-year Orange Coast College career were multifaceted and the stuff of legend. Sue’s OCC tenure ran from 1964-95, and her service was characterized by remarkable productivity and weighty accomplishments.
She first tested her leadership skills as a Mariner Girl Scout in Newport Beach; then as a student government officer at Newport Harbor High School; then as an athlete at Occidental College; and, most impressively, as an Orange Coast College administrator who played an indispensable role in introducing Title IX to California’s community colleges.
She was a key player in forever altering the landscape of community college athletics at the state level. Though she modestly asserts that that time had finally arrived…she, in fact, had arrived to change the time.
Title IX is the landmark 1972 legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools, in both academics and athletics.
Sue will be one of six former Orange Coast College administrators, coaches and athletes who’ll be inducted Saturday (Oct. 27) into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame. She is most deserving of the honor.
Sue served as chair of OCC’s Physical Education and Athletics Division from 1977-85. In 1977, she was named the first woman to serve on the state’s Commission on Athletics (COA). The COA is the single administrative governing entity that is responsible for statewide rules and policies governing community college intercollegiate athletic programs.
In 1980, Sue was named COA chair. She became the first woman – and first non-college president – to be accorded that honor. She served as COA chair for four years, and was one of the principals who sat down and wrote women into the state’s rules and policies for athletics.
“Title IX and the COA occupied a lot of my time during those four years,” Brown reflects. “I’m certain there were those at Coast who felt I was spending too much time away from OCC on COA business, though no one ever said as much to me. During those years we were about the business of seeing that there was a single state athletic code that took care of both men and woman.
“It was an exciting time, but there was also tension. I was involved at the state level to the point of making it (Title IX implementation) happen…it had to happen. But there were a few male coaches in our division at the time who weren’t prepared to deal with change. We all managed to make it happen, however, and our campus soon became one of the leaders in the state.”
In case you haven’t picked up on it, yet, Sue Brown was – and is – a trailblazer.
The COA became the FIRST postsecondary, amateur athletic governing body in the nation to adopt a single set of rules for both men’s and women’s sports. That largely occurred because of Sue. At the end of her tenure as COA chair, in 1984, the organization honored her with a proclamation that read in part: “She has seen and administered the definitive rewriting of the State Athletic Code, the continued growth of women’s intercollegiate athletic programs, the restructuring of the statewide playoff program, the development of due process procedures, and the development of the office and position of commissioner of athletics, a sports Hall of Fame Award and many other projects.”
My daughters and granddaughters are better off because of Sue’s vision and tenacity.
“Sue was – and is – one of those rare individuals who never says something cannot be done,” says Sharon Donoff, OCC’s retired vice president of Student Services. “Rather, she says ‘Let's see how we can make it work.’ She's willing to try new ways and does not think her way is always the right or best one. There’s lots of humility there.”
In 1991, the COA honored Sue for her contributions to the growth and evolution of men and women’s athletics throughout the state. She was the first woman to be inducted into the COA Hall of Fame.
“That was a great honor,” she says. “I felt very humble.”
Brown was just 55 when she retired from Orange Coast College in 1995, after more than three decades on the staff.
“I always wanted to retire while I was still young enough to enjoy retirement,” she says. “I also wanted to retire while I still loved what I was doing, and while the people I worked with still wanted me. I think I could easily have continued for another five to 10 years, but I went out with several retiring friends and we’ve never regretted it.
“Still, I had an absolutely wonderful career at Orange Coast College.”
She continues to support the institution today as an active member of the college’s Emeritus Institute. She’s a member of the Senior Day Committee, and volunteers several times each year to work at a variety of campus events.
When Sue joined OCC’s Physical Education faculty in 1964, she wasn’t the first woman in the department. But she proved to be the woman who would spearhead the greatest change the division ever experienced.
“When I first arrived we had a very limited and proscribed selection of classes,” she recalls. “I remember seeing a handbook that listed all of our different classes. There weren’t many.
“We had no women’s intercollegiate athletic program at that time as we have today. It’s all come about as a result of Title IX. Back in 1964, we had a WAA (Women’s Athletic Association) Program with volleyball, basketball, field hockey and softball…and cookies and punch. It was recreational in nature.”
Now the college fields 11 women’s intercollegiate sports teams…and – year in and year out – it’s the BEST women’s athletic program in the state. Not only is it the best women’s program in the state; OCC’s women dominate their conference and statewide rivals.
Born in Glendale, Sue moved to Newport Beach with her parents and younger brother in 1945 when she was six years old. Her father, Larry, was co-owner of Balboa Marine Hardware on Pacific Coast Highway.
“Our first home in Newport Beach was a rented house on Lido Isle. It was on the bay front, opposite the location where the Balboa Bay Club sits today. We didn’t stay long. My parents soon became worried that my two-year-old brother, Tim, might decide at some point to take a walk off our dock. He was pretty adventurous and they didn’t want to risk that.”
Tim was so adventurous that he one day became a Price-Waterhouse CPA.
The family moved to another home on Lido. The island, at the time, was still peppered with many empty sand-filled lots. The Brown family then purchased a home on Cliff Dr., on the bluff above PCH. Sue attended Newport Elementary School, and also Corona del Mar Elementary. The Browns were charter members of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport.
Sue graduated from Horace Ensign Junior High and enrolled at Newport Harbor High School.
At Newport, she played a variety of team sports and was a talented swimmer. She was GAA president her senior year, and was active as a Girl Scout and as a Mariner Girl Scout. She was a year behind Dave Grant (OCC’s future president) in school, and they, in fact, went out on a date or two.
When Dave graduated from Newport in 1956 he matriculated to Orange Coast College, where he established himself as a BMOC (Big Man on Campus). He was involved in a host of Coast activities, and then transferred to UCLA. Sue took a slightly different path.
“I had an attitude,” she admits with an embarrassed smile. “Orange Coast College wasn’t in my vocabulary. I ran only in four-year circles at Newport. Though a number of my friends ended up at Coast, I acted as if I didn’t know where it was and I referred to it as a ‘high school with ashtrays.’”
She no doubt would have been better served had she gone to OCC after her Newport graduation, but she ended up at San Jose State University.
“I was there for two years and was having way too much fun. I did the whole sorority thing, and was vice president of my sorority as a sophomore. My grades were horrible. It was not a good situation for me.”
She transferred to Occidental College – her parents’ alma mater – and graduated three years later with a B.A. in physical education. She minored in music.
“I really enjoyed my time at Oxy,” she says. “When I was at San Jose State, it was play first then, if you had any time left over, you studied. At Occidental it was study first; play afterward. Even though the playtime was less at Oxy, the time we had for play was lots more fun.”
Sue, who played the flute from the time she was a junior high school student, played for three years in the Occidental Symphony.
“That was a great experience. I sat next to Louise DiTullio, who later spent 18 years as principal flutist for the Pacific Symphony. She was also a Hollywood studio artist and played on more than a thousand movie soundtracks.”
Sue was president of Occidental’s WAA.
“It was pretty informal, not like women’s athletics at the collegiate level today,” she says. “We’d announce to our gals ‘We’re gonna go to Santa Barbara this weekend to play volleyball, who wants to go?’ We’d take whomever wanted to go. It was like a recreation program. In addition to volleyball we also played basketball, field hockey and softball – the four major women’s sports.”
Sue wanted to teach high school…it had been her dream for years.
“I’d set that goal for myself in high school. I selected physical education as my major over music because I knew I’d have lots more fun teaching P.E. than music.”
She later completed her master’s degree at Cal State University, Long Beach in physical education.
In the fall of 1962, right after her Occidental graduation, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District opened a new high school in Corona del Mar.
“CDM was my first teaching assignment and I had a great time,” she says.
Sue was in charge of the Corona del Mar High drill team and GAA sports activities. As she began her second year she was elevated to department chair. She was just 24 years of age.
“We had a great staff and great new facilities. It was a wonderful place to be. We also had a very social faculty. We’d have a party every day after school. Faculty members would drive out of the parking lot after classes, turn right and head for the Newporter Inn or Rubens. Looking back on it now, it probably wasn’t a very good situation.”
But Sue didn’t remain in the situation for long. She was rather aggressively pulled out of Corona del Mar in 1964 to take a position at OCC.
“I got a call from Dottie Duddridge, whom I knew through a coaching association. Dottie was teaching dance at Coast. Actually, she left me a message and said that it was urgent that she talk with me.
“I thought Dottie was just going to try to twist my arm to buy or sell tickets to her OCC Dance Department concert, so I didn’t call her back.”
Duddridge was persistent. She kept calling.
“I finally returned her call a couple of weeks later, thinking, ‘Surely the concert must be over by now.’ But Dottie said, ‘Sue, we have a position available for a woman in OCC’s PE Department and we want you to apply.’”
Sue, however, didn’t want to apply.
“I was happy at Corona. I’d reached my life’s goal of becoming a high school P.E. teacher. I had no desire to go to Orange Coast College.”
Dottie wouldn’t let up; she was unrelenting. Sue also heard from Jim Fitzgerald, OCC’s vice president of instruction, and Al Irwin, the college’s swim coach.
“Jim had been my music teacher at Ensign Junior High, and I respected him very much. I’d worked for Al as a volunteer swim instructor during the summer months at Newport Harbor High.”
The trio convinced Sue to stop by the campus for an interview. She interviewed first with athletic director, Wendell Pickens. Also participating in that session were Duddridge and psychology instructor and counselor, Doris Kagley. Brown was then sent before incoming OCC president, Robert B. Moore, incoming Coast District chancellor, Norman E. Watson, and Fitzgerald. They offered her the job.
“I still didn’t want it, but Al Irwin and Fitz twisted my arm and I finally gave in,” she says with a laugh and a shake of her head. “I’m so grateful I did. I loved every moment that I spent at Orange Coast College. I was allowed to do so many things, and I hope I was able to make a difference in the lives of students.”
When Sue first arrived at Coast in 1964 her assignment was “women’s team sports coach.” She coached basketball, softball, volleyball and field hockey. She then became the women’s swimming coach, and was also chair of the Women’s P.E. Department. In 1977, when Pickens, the founding OCC athletic director, retired, she became Physical Education Division chair. OCC football coach, Dick Tucker, was named athletic director.
“During the 1973-74 academic year there was considerable pressure brought to bear because of Title IX – which had passed a year earlier – to bring women into the Coast athletic program,” Sue said.
In 1976, the COA invited several women to participate in what was labeled a “study process.” Sue was one of those women. The group threw open the State Athletic Code and began to work on wholesale changes that would make it relevant for both men and women. Previously, the athletic programs for men and women were utterly and completely separate.
By 1984, the NCAA and NAIA combined to form one athletic program for men and women.
In 1980 Lloyd Messersmith, executive director of the CCJCA (California Community and Junior College Association), called Sue and asked her if she would be willing to chair the COA.
“It was a bolt from the blue, I had no idea that I might be considered for the position,” she says. “It scared the heck out of me. But Lloyd quickly added the caveat, ‘If you don’t want the position we have someone else in mind,’ which led me to believe that they really didn’t want me. I jumped at the opportunity.”
She became the first woman and first non-college-president to chair the organization.
“It was so much fun being in on the ground floor. Every meeting made a difference. We had dozens of statewide meetings. We were making history and rewriting the state athletic code.
“I was thrilled to be part of the process.”
Sue credits the COA’s “team approach” for all that was accomplished.
“In my humble opinion, all of what occurred during those years and since is due in large part to the vision of a few people who were willing to put aside their fears and most of their spare time. They developed a program of athletics for men and women that met the intent of Title IX and the needs and interests of the California community college athlete, and those responsible for coaching and administering the programs.”
Nearly every year that she was in OCC’s Physical Education and Athletics Division the women of the division would conduct a retreat.
“We had a dozen women in the division. We’d take off Friday and Monday – cancel our classes – and go to Dottie’s cabin at Mammoth Mountain, or to Sharon Jones’ place in Tahoe, or to some spot in the desert, and we’d plot. We felt that the men in our division were obstacles; so all the women would meet and discuss what we needed to do to make things better.
“It brought the women of the division incredibly close together. We still get together today during the holidays, or for lunch. We’ve become lifelong friends.”
Sue has vivid memories of the state’s “Hit List,” issued in 1983.
“That was fun,” she says with a wry smile and sarcasm dripping from her every word. The state identified classes that it deemed “avocational” and “recreational” in nature and pulled them out of community college schedules that fall.
“The Hit List was a huge deal and really hurt us,” Sue says. “For several years we’d been trying to expand and broaden our course offerings. We’d added fitness classes, backpacking, bicycling and horseback riding. One year, I asked every member of our division to write a course outline for at least one new course. Our curriculum was excellent, but it was devastated by the Hit List.”
The disastrous moment in Orange Coast College history sparked a highly creative rejoinder, however. Brown and OCC’s dean of students, Dave Grant, put their heads together and came up with the college’s unique and innovative Sailing Academy.
“We had some very popular sailing classes that we were no longer allowed to offer for college credit. We came up with a non-credit, fee-based Sailing Academy Program that would be offered at our crew base in Newport. It’s been a huge success for 25 years.”
By 1985, things had settled down significantly in the Physical Education and Athletics Division.
“We were all getting along quite well,” Sue says with a laugh, “and our women’s and men’s athletic programs were absolutely soaring.”
But Sue began to feel – shall we say – somewhat antsy. She was always one to be about the task of looking for new challenges. “Good times” usually translate into “boring times” for Susan Brown.
“I was a bit of a thrill seeker,” she says, “that’s why I got into athletic administration in the first place. I knew that I wouldn’t be content going out and teaching tennis semester after semester after semester. I needed new challenges. I was no longer involved with the COA, and was getting bored in the Athletic Department. I decided to apply for a couple of different jobs on campus in ’85.”
When Wayne Wolfe, OCC’s associate dean of Admissions and Records for many years, decided to become a mathematics professor again, Sue had a chat with his boss, admissions dean Jack McGill.
“I told Jack that I was interested in Wayne’s position,” she says. “I said I didn’t know a thing about A&R – though I’d accidentally dropped my share of class rosters into the Coast swimming pool – but that I’d be willing to learn. I was at the same administrative level, so it would be a lateral transfer for me.”
McGill enthusiastically embraced the idea. He knew that Brown was a first-rate administrator. She, quite obviously, possessed excellent leadership skills.
McGill retired in 1988 and Brown took over as administrative dean of Admissions and Records. She was on a steep learning curve. A lot was happening in A&R at the time.
“We made many advancements in the 10 years that I was in the office,” she says. “We brought in a new computer system; got telephonic registration up and running; provided picture IDs for our students; began collecting fees by credit card; brought in the DSK system; tested the Banner system; and discovered and tested lots of new ways to do things. It was an exciting time.”
Yielding to her natural disposition, Sue was a “hands-on” A&R dean.
“Every day on the job I personally spoke to every employee working the registration line,” she says. “I was also responsible for the International Center, and I’d walk down there every day to speak with every staff member. That was my expectation for myself. That’s who I am.”
And Sue was never shy about rolling up her sleeves.
“We moved lots of furniture and threw out lots of boxes. I brought in a couple of crowbars and sledgehammers one day and we tore out shelving that was cluttering up one of our work rooms.”
Did she miss P.E. and athletics?
“Not really. I was so busy – and having so much fun – that I didn’t have time to miss the Athletic Department,” she says. “Besides, I was able to help lots of athletes and coaches in my new assignment.”
In 1993 the National Association of Girls and Women in Sport honored Sue. She was presented a plaque for her many years of work in physical education, intercollegiate athletics and college administration.
In 1995 she decided to retire.
“I’d had a great career at OCC, and had grown as a human being. My goal for life had been to teach high school physical education, but Orange Coast College gave me the opportunity to go far beyond that. It was always fun and exciting at Coast, and I shall be eternally grateful for my experience there.”
After retiring, Sue picked up a couple of temporary gigs as a consultant. She worked in the admissions office at Saddleback College for six months, and was acting athletic director at Irvine Valley College for a half-year.
“One of the first things I did at Saddleback was to throw out boxes and boxes of old files that they didn’t need,” she says. “I came to work in jeans one day and threw everything out myself.”
After having spent almost her entire career at OCC, she learned a few things at Saddleback and Irvine Valley.
“I learned that every institution encounters the same kinds of problems. We all have those great employees who work hard every day and take pride in what they do. They advance the institution. But we also have those employees who are loafers, and those who are chronic whiners. I also learned something that I had always suspected – OCC does it better than most.”
Sue still finds it hard to believe what was accomplished during her years on the job.
“We have come so very far,” she marvels. “To watch our professional women athletics, our Olympic athletes, and our youth-league girls is truly exciting. Girls can now look forward to the chance of a scholarship – just like their male counterparts – providing a motivation for success as both a student and athlete. This dramatic change fills us all with pride.”
Now Sue is being inducted into OCC’s Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s another jewel in a much-bejeweled professional crown.
“This is a wonderful honor,” she says softly and sincerely. “And it’s bestowed upon me by people who I respect and admire – and by an institution that I love. I couldn’t be more proud.”
And Orange Coast College couldn’t be more proud of Susan Brown. She’s a trailblazer, and her mere presence has made this campus a better place.
Thanks, Sue! You’re richly deserving of your Hall of Fame recognition.