By Marilyn Tinnin
Win-some: adjective attractive or charming in an open and delightful way.
Yes. That is the word I was looking for. And that would be Peggie Gillom-Granderson.
At six feet tall, she would be hard not to notice in a crowd. She shares that she never dries a pair of jeans or pants in the clothes dryer for fear they would never again be long enough! It was long ago she came to terms with her height and is eager to share her epiphany whenever she is invited to speak. “God made me exactly the way He wanted me to be—TALL!”
Soft-spoken and unassuming, Peggie has deep dimples and a beautiful smile that lets you know right away she is a warm, outgoing, and kind person. Unless you had seen her basketball skill on display back during her college career in the late 1970s, or her WNBA games during her professional career, you would have a hard time believing she could become such a fierce competitor on the basketball court! Let her record speak for itself.
She was a four-year starter at Ole Miss from 1976–1980, and her record as the all-time leading scorer with 2,486 points and 1,271 rebounds remains unbeaten by a male or female hoopster. She helped lead the Lady Rebels to a 103-23 record, three SEC West titles, and four NCAA Tournament appearances. She played a year with the Dallas Diamonds, which was part of the old Women’s Professional Basketball League, before returning to Ole Miss as an assistant coach under Van Chancellor who had coached her as a player.
Sixteen years later, Chancellor—who says, “Peggie is like a little sister to me”—persuaded her to join him in the WNB coaching the Houston Comets. The Comets won the WNBA championship both years she was there! She became head coach at Texas A&M in 1998. During her time there, she became an assistant coach for USA Basketball, guiding the 1999 Pan American Games team to a bronze medal and the 2000 U.S. Olympic team to a Gold!
She was named to the Ole Miss Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. She was coaxed back to Ole Miss in 2003 to assist head coach Carol Ross who had been a teammate and friend ever since their undergraduate days.
In 2009—many awards later—Peggy retired from coaching to become the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Women’s Chaplain on the Ole Miss campus. Josh Gilreath, State Director of the FCA ministry speaks in glowing terms of Peggie’s background, experience, and credentials, but he says it is her humility and great passion for reaching others that make her the perfect fit for the job.
Peggie grew up in the little community of Abbeville. Located just ten miles north of Oxford right up Highway 7, it boasts a total population of about 450, and Peggie Gillom-Granderson is related to a lot of those residents. She is one of ten children born to Ella and George Gillom. Her father passed away when she was just six years old, and Ms. Ella, a lady of great faith, took a job as a school cafeteria worker and devoted herself to providing a strong and stable home for her children. Peggie’s aunt and uncle lived practically next door. With lots of cousins who were more like extra sisters and brothers, the two families were inseparable day and night.
On Sundays then, as now, the Gilloms would be found at the Providence United Methodist Church. “I was in Sunday School and church every Sunday from the time I was really small. We all walked to church because we did not have a car,” she says.
“I was looking for the Lord even from a young age,” Peggy says. The seeds were planted early in her life by the mother whose first priority was that all of her children come to saving faith in Jesus. She lived it, breathed it, and instilled it. Despite being in church every Sunday and learning all the right things to believe, the gospel was not personal, real, and transformative for her until she was in her 30s. “And I haven’t been the same since,” she says.
Her basketball skills were cultivated on a dirt court in the yard competing with her sisters, brothers, and cousins. She never played on an organized team until her tenth grade year at Lafayette County High School. She laughs that in the beginning she took up the game because of her brothers’ friends who were always coming over to play. “I was there just because that’s where the boys were,” she says.
She certainly had the height, but she also had something extra – talent – and it was evident to everyone. The other kids kept encouraging her to go out for the team at school. She won a spot easily, but her mother had a hard and fast rule that she would not be traveling to out-of-town games on the bus unless one of her brothers accompanied her.
When she graduated from high school in 1976, she was the first African American female to be awarded an athletic scholarship to Ole Miss. Peggie is quick to say, “Yes, but you know I never thought of myself as any different from anybody, and none of my teammates treated me like I was any different. We were teammates and friends.” The “friends” part is past and present! She keeps up with most of her teammates even now, forty years later.
Her genuine love for others is impossible to miss. Lynette Johnson, Executive Associate Athletics Director at Ole Miss has known Peggy since 1989 and says that one of the things that stands out most about her is the fact that student-athletes whom Peggie has coached always want to stay in touch with her. She is easy to love. As her longtime coach and colleague Van Chancellor says, “If someone doesn’t like Peggie Gillom-Granderson, there is something seriously wrong with them!”
A Surprise Gift
The university built its women’s athletic complex in 1997. Chancellor Robert Khayat and Lynette Johnson were meeting one day in early 2000 and both thought the building needed a name. Everywhere on campus buildings have names that honor significant donors, alumni, and faculty. “Women’s Athletic Complex” was so impersonal.
When Chancellor Khayat posed the question, “Whose name should be on this?” Lynette says fewer than five seconds elapsed before they said in sync, “Gillom Center!” Named for Peggie and her younger sister, Jennifer—also an outstanding alumnus whose career was one for the record books—the center houses offices and locker rooms for the rifle, soccer, softball and volleyball programs, and contains three indoor tennis courts, a championship volleyball court and another court which can be used for both volleyball and basketball practices.
Lynette had the distinct pleasure of delivering the news to her friend. It was an early morning and Peggie was having her regular devotional time when the phone rang.
“Gillom,” said Lynette, “I’ve got some news for you,” and she proceeded to tell Peggie that she would have a building named for her.
The reply came back, “Lynette, you’ve got to be kidding.”
The thrill has not dimmed all these years later as she calls it one of the happiest things that has ever happened to her. “I never saw any of this coming.” In typical Gillom-style humility, she says, “That had to be God because people like me don’t get their names on buildings. I’m not dead! I don’t have a lot of money and those are the kinds of people that get buildings named after them!”
The dedication in April 2000 was one of the largest gatherings Ole Miss had ever hosted for a building dedication ceremony. For Peggie, who was at the time an assistant coach with the U.S. Olympic team, it was one huge reunion for family, friends, colleagues, and former coaches who all agreed, “It couldn’t happen to a more deserving person.” The love and friendship she had cultivated generously through the years had reaped tremendous dividends!
During the intervening years between college and returning to Ole Miss as an assistant coach in 2003, Peggie’s journey included a few serious romantic relationships. Although she continued to be a weekly church attendee, she admits that she had fallen into the accepted moral norms of the secular culture. Being sexually active was just part of that.
She was attending a Bible conference back in the early 1990s when she heard a keynote speaker whose convicting message captured her heart, mind, and spirit. There was going to be no peace in her life until she repented of that lifestyle and began to be obedient to God’s instructions. She broke up with her boyfriend and began her 100% pursuit of the Lord. This was the moment when everything she had ever learned about God became personal to her.
She says, “I called myself a born-again virgin!” She became quite outspoken on the subject preaching abstinence to her friends and the players she coached. She used scripture—she used her personal story—and she put the truth in front of them. Then she prayed and put it in God’s hands. This has continued to be a huge issue for her as she prays that God will touch other hearts in the same way He touched hers.
Years passed after that large moment in Peggie’s life. The years became a decade and then a few more years. Her life was consumed with basketball and rich with friendships and a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. It appeared that romance was not in God’s plans for Peggie, and she was content with that.
In 2004, she had been back in Oxford a year assisting her friend and former teammate Carol Ross with women’s basketball. Anthony Granderson, a state trooper working out of the Batesville district office, often had some security assignments on the Ole Miss campus.
He was in the lobby of the basketball building one afternoon when Peggie came walking up the steps, and he was instantly attracted to her. There was something radiant about her, and Anthony could simply tell she was someone he wanted to know. It was more than the fact that she was really beautiful. She just had a grace that he recognized and, as hokey as it may sound, he says the thought flashed through his mind that she was going to be his wife. Never mind that they had never met!
He did something quite out of character. He walked right up to her and very gentleman-like introduced himself. She was gracious, told him who she was, and then was gone.
Several weeks later, Peggie and Carol Ross were headed to Memphis on a recruiting trip when a patrol car pulled them over for speeding on Highway 6 between Oxford and Batesville. It was Anthony who gave them a warning and let them go.
Peggie made the comment to Carol, “I like him. If he asked me out, I would probably go.”
A few days later Anthony called. Peggie put him off at first by saying she would get back to him. She was still committed to the abstinence pledge she had made a decade earlier and although she found Anthony very attractive, she wanted to be sure their values were in sync. She asked one of her cousins who worked with the Oxford Police Department if he could do a background check to be sure Anthony was as nice as he seemed to be. Glowing reports. She called him back.
Their first date was in December 2004 to the State Trooper’s Christmas Dinner in Batesville. Good call. In February, he proposed and on July 2, 2005, they married at the Providence United Methodist Church in Abbeville. Peggie laughs when she says that she told Anthony before the first date, “We can’t have sex. I’m too old to read between the lines. No games. Do you still want to go out with me?”
One of Anthony’s friends later confided to Peggie, “Anthony says he ain’t never met nobody like you!” No kidding. She is the real deal.
Ten years of marriage later, Anthony, who is the trooper assigned to Coach Hugh Freeze’s detail, says, “I’m the most blessed man alive that my wife and I are really soulmates. She is the most spiritual person I know. She is bursting with care for others and it is all out of her heart that is committed to the Lord.”
Today and Tomorrow
When Peggie hung up her coaching hat in 2009 and accepted then Athletic Director Pete Boone’s offer to become the Ole Miss Women’s Chaplain, she got to use the full range of her gifts, and she has loved it.
As a Social Work major who has never had a “social work” job per se, she says she uses her degree every single day with the student athletes!
She got involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes when she was a student, and when the late Bill Buckner came to talk to her in 2008, she felt very “called” to his vision.
She indeed understands the unique stresses in a female athlete’s life, the temptations in the life of a college student, the pressures of longing to fit in, to excel and juggle the demands of the athletic vs. the academic dimensions of collegiate life—she so gets it all. And she is there to encourage, listen, and guide young women who grapple with all the conflicting messages.
Going forward, this is the year she plans to take her job to the next level, developing the kind of in-depth relationships with the student athletes to really get an assessment as to where each one is in their spiritual life. She sadly says, “We are no longer in a place where we can just assume that everyone is a Christian.”
Peggie’s plan is to find out where each person is spiritually and to be sure they have an opportunity to hear the gospel and to grasp how wide, how high, how deep is the love of Christ for each and every one of them. (Ephesians 3:18) You can bet she will be doing a lot of behind- the-scenes praying!
Peggie does a lot of praying, a lot of telling her story, and a lot of asking God to connect the dots for these young women she mentors. She cares.
If I were sending a daughter to Ole Miss, I would be praying she might just possibly connect with Peggie!