Pat Barrett was more than a successful women’s basketball coach and a Radford University pioneer.
She was also a cherished mentor to players who became college and high school coaches in the area.
Barrett died of cancer last Thursday in her Pilot home at the age of 82. Her funeral will be held Tuesday.
Barrett was the first intercollegiate coach in any sport in the modern era of Radford athletics. She went 193-94 as the Highlanders women’s basketball coach from 1971-84.
“She created the passion that I ended up having for the game to be a coach,” said Charlene Curtis, a William Fleming graduate who played for Barrett at Radford before becoming a college head coach herself at Radford, Temple and Wake Forest.
“She studied the game. She would go to [coaching] clinics. … She would be one of two women at the clinic, or the only woman at a clinic. She was on the cutting edge early of learning the game and understanding the game, and she was an excellent teacher.
“I learned how to teach the game from her.”
Curtis was hardly the only one who learned from Barrett.
“By her mentorship, she taught me how to start Northside softball,” said Lynn Richmond, a Cave Spring graduate who played for Barrett at Radford and who later became the first softball coach at Northside High School.
“I have the utmost love and respect for her and her life, and the time and energy she’s given to students and athletes to become better people. She was a master of her job.
“She was like my mother and grandmother all wrapped in one. … She was that person who always showed up for me, and it really made a difference in who I am.”
Barrett, a Forest native, played high school basketball at New London Academy. She then played basketball for Lynchburg College; she later became a charter member of that college’s hall of fame.
Barrett taught and coached at New London Academy and at Christiansburg High School before becoming a health and physical education professor at Radford, which was then a women’s college.
Former Roanoke College women’s basketball coach Susan Dunagan was one of Barrett’s students at Radford. After Dunagan got the Roanoke College job, Dunagan had to coach against her mentor.
“She was a trailblazer for women’s athletics,” Dunagan said. “She was a legend.
“The number of lives that she touched was amazing. … It’s people like her that we have to give a lot of thanks to. She helped to get us where we are.”
Barrett was plucked from Radford’s professor ranks when the college resurrected its intercollegiate women’s basketball team in 1971. Radford had played women’s basketball earlier in the century, but Barrett had to restart the program from scratch.
Cindy Burch Terry, who later became the girls basketball coach at Patrick County High School, played for Barrett’s first two Radford squads.
“She was more than a coach. She was a friend,” Terry said. “She got very involved with her players in all that we did.
“When I started teaching and coaching, she was always there if I wanted advice.”
Curtis was the brightest star of the program’s early years. She scored 1,043 points at Radford from 1972-76.
“We took cars to games. There was really no budget,” Curtis said. “The sororities would help raise money to get us to tournaments. … You provided your own shoes and socks.”
Barrett had to do more than coach.
“When you got to a tournament, … she literally took those uniforms to a laundromat while the kids were sleeping in the motel and washed them and took them back so they could wear them the next day,” said Elaine Smith, a former Radford assistant coach and professor who was Barrett’s best friend and neighbor.
During the Barrett era, Radford moved from a nonscholarship program to a scholarship program. Her reign also saw the Highlanders move from the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women to NCAA Division II.
Barrett, who notched wins over Virginia, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion and James Madison during her career, never had a losing season.
“Pat Barrett was really the first person that coached me that really taught me the game, especially on the defensive side,” said Curtis, who later served as one of Barrett’s graduate assistants. “She was very fundamental.
“She set the standard in women’s basketball at Radford.”
When Barrett was inducted into Radford’s hall of fame in 1996, she recalled in her speech that she attended the coaching clinics of Bobby Knight, Adolph Rupp and John Wooden.
“At that time, if you went to a good clinic, you went to the men’s,” Smith said. “Three women walked into a men’s clinic and they almost fainted. They had to stop their dirty jokes because three women were there. And she was one of them.”
Former Liberty High School girls basketball coach Sheila Branch Turpin scored 1,197 points for Radford from 1976-80, then became one of Barrett’s graduate assistants.
“She was a great coach,” said Turpin, a Jefferson Forest graduate. “She worked you hard in practice. … [But] she really wanted the games to be fun for you.
“She was somebody I could always count on.”
In Turpin’s junior season, Radford beat UVa in the third-place game of the 1979 state AIAW Division I tournament for Barrett’s 100th win at the school.
The following season, Radford won 19 games and claimed the state AIAW Division II tournament.
Radford joined the NCAA in 1981.
Elon softball coach and former Averett women’s basketball coach Kathy Bocock played for Barrett in the 1980s.
“She knew her X’s and O’s like crazy,” Bocock said. “It was incredible how much she knew the game of basketball — and what I learned from her.”
Barrett’s swan song was the 1983-84 season. Radford went 23-5 and was ranked 16th in the final NCAA Division II poll.
Yvette “Pebbles” Maynard Smith was part of that team.
“[Barrett] always pushed us to work hard and do the best that we could do, and to also be good citizens,” said Smith, a Franklin County graduate. “She was a great role model. It carried over into my life.”
Barrett gave up coaching after the 1983-84 season, even though the program was about to move up to NCAA Division I. Curtis succeeded her as the coach, with Barrett remaining at Radford as a professor.
Curtis said Barrett wanted to be a full-time presence in the classroom again.
There was also a family reason for her decision. Elaine Smith said Barrett’s father became very ill, and Barrett wanted to have the time to go back and forth to Lynchburg to help take care of him.
Barrett continued to have an impact as a professor. In 1991, she received a grant to train public school educators to teach HIV and AIDS prevention to their students.
Barrett, who was a widow, battled various forms of cancer on and off for about 15 years.
She went into hospice care about two weeks ago. She died of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia, according to Terry.
The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Fellowship Baptist Church in Riner, where she taught a women’s bible study class.