Emily White is a Gamecock to the core. From her garnet blazer to her Gamecock pendant, Emily likely doesn’t have much orange hanging in her closet. The fact that she just retired from 45 years as the administrative assistant to the athletic director of the University of South Carolina almost certainly ensures it.
“I’ve been a Gamecock fan my whole life,” she says. “When I was small, we had two tickets to the games. I guess my mom wasn’t too interested in going so I always went with my dad.”
Emily, like many Columbians, cultivated a love of the Gamecocks from the crib. She is from West Columbia and graduated from Brookland Cayce High School. She also attended U.S.C., but got married and did not graduate. Her status, however, went from university student to university employee very quickly.
“I was looking for a job, and a friend suggested I see the U.S.C. personnel department. I didn’t know what I’d be qualified for, other than administrative assistant or ‘secretary’ as we all called it then,” she laughs. “It turned out there was one job available, and it was in the athletic department. Of course, I was just tickled to death!”
But first, she had to make it through the interview. “I met with Ralph Floyd, the associate athletic director at the time. It was December 1966. He spoke to football coach Paul Dietzel, and within a couple of days I was offered the job. I started on Jan. 3, 1967,” she recalls.
“At that time, Coach Dietzel had a secretary. Basketball coach Frank McGuire had a secretary. There was another girl in the football office, two girls in the ticket office and one girl part-time in the Gamecock Club. That was the extent of the female employees those days,” she says. “Now there are so many people!”
Back then, she shares, her job included the details of active football, baseball and track programs. “I did a little bit of everything. Actually, I’ve done everything except work in the ticket office and the Gamecock Club,” she says.
Those were the days when an administrator worked for a handful of people, but today, it’s narrowed down to just one. Another big difference: technology. “Technology has really changed the job a lot, but you actually do the same basic things. It’s really gotten to be such a big business,” she says. “When I first came to work, the Gamecock Club cleared $12,000 that year. We all thought that was such a big deal!”
Bo Hagan was Emily’s first athletic director, and she remembers how different the structure was those days. “At one time we had three athletic directors, with one other guy from the business school who supervised everything,” she says.
The department was rather small until a change in 1982, when the football coach and athletic director jobs became separate positions. According to Emily, one other program bombshell still reverberates all around the athletic program today: joining the Southeastern Conference in 1991. “In the 45-and-a-half years I’ve been here, joining the SEC was a milestone. They are so great to work with, and the schools in the conference are, too.”
All those years gave Emily many fond memories and lifelong friends. “My favorite part of the job is working with the student athletes. It amazes me that they come in as young boys and girls and leave as young men and women. I love when they come back to visit me or I see them at a reunion and see how they’ve succeeded in life,” says Emily. “And, of course, interacting with the fans is amazing, too. Being here so long, I know a lot of the fans. They yell to me in the parking lot.”
Emily has had an up-front view of a stress-packed job that few of us ever really fully understand — a job once held by giants in Gamecock lore: Paul Dietzel, Jim Carlen, Bob Marcum, King Dixon, Mike McGee and Eric Hyman.
When asked her favorite of the athletic directors she has worked for, Emily demurs, but adds quickly, “I really did like all of them. They were each super, super nice to me. I honestly can’t say that I have a favorite.”
Her fondest on-the-job memories are the big wins: two national championships in baseball, the ACC basketball championship in 1970, and when George Rogers won the Heisman trophy. “When you’re there working, you celebrate those things, and you’re happy. But you’ve got to get down to work because there’s always something else coming up,” she says.
While Emily adores the Gamecock nation, a few fans are known for their unruly habits. “One of the most stressful things is getting calls from fans. They mean well, but I have had fans that have chewed me out if we didn’t play well on Saturday,” she says. “In the 1990s, this guy from Texas would call me after we had a bad game. It never failed. He’d call me on Saturday, and rant and rave. It went on for about five years. Then one day, this guy came to the door with a bouquet of flowers. He said, ‘I’m so-and-so from Plano, Texas. I’m the guy that always called you and chewed you out. I just want to apologize because you didn’t deserve that.’”
One of the other ugly times was when King Dixon refused to let the Rolling Stones play at the stadium. “There were bomb threats,” says Emily.
Emily thinks there are many things loyal fans don’t truly understand about being athletic director. “They think it’s easier than it is,” she explains. “It’s a 24-7 job every day of the year. There’s not a lot of downtime. Johnny Gregory, in his 29 days as interim AD, would walk around the conference table and say, ‘Where’s the glamour? Where’s the glamour?’”
But she’s seen that it’s far more than just a job. “I think all the ADs I’ve worked for have felt such a responsibility to all the student athletes. They have always felt that those student athletes are somebody’s children, so they really look after them,” she says.
As Emily slowly transitions out of the program she’s been a part of for more than four decades, she’s already enjoying working part time for several hours a month with a man she knows well: new athletic director and former baseball coach Ray Tanner.
“The athletic department is in its best state since I’ve been here. Things are moving forward. There’s momentum,” she says. “Eric Hyman had great foresight and did a wonderful job adding and updating facilities. He always did his best to make sure the coaches had what they needed to have successful programs. It’s just a good time to be a Gamecock.”
As she leaves the Rice Athletic Center for the last time, she’s leaving a lasting legacy — one of the longest careers in the athletic department and one that Eric Hyman marked with well-deserved pomp and circumstance before departing for Texas A&M.
“When they had the retirement reception for me I was so pleased and so excited. I told them I was really going to hold myself together, and I did,” she says proudly. “They gave me some wonderful gifts and then Eric said a donor had made a contribution for the athletic director’s suite to be named in my honor. He presented me with a plaque that will hang outside the suite on the wall. When I read it, it said, ‘The Emily White Athletic Director’s Suite.’”
Then almost to herself, she quietly marvels, “They named the athletic director’s suite after me.”
To anyone who knows Emily and the great service she’s done for generations of athletic directors and University of South Carolina sports fans, there could be no more fitting a tribute.
Except maybe a third national championship in baseball. Her fingers are crossed.