For more than four decades, Peel Hawthorne has been a living, breathing Swiss Army knife for anything and everything William & Mary.

That’s not just athletics, though she’s in the first cohort of student-athletes that helped usher the university into Division I women’s athletics as a field hockey and lacrosse player. She later returned to campus to coach both sports and earned a national reputation as the Tribe’s head field hockey coach, winning a career-record 306 games, 275 of them at William & Mary.

A member of the W&M Athletics Hall of Fame, in 2013 Hawthorne retired from coaching to become the associate athletics director and senior woman administrator (SWA,) overseeing 23 sports. Since then, she has served as senior advisor to athletics for special projects and senior associate athletics director and SWA.

Nationally, she’s served on the NCAA Division I field hockey committee, the National Field Hockey Coaches Association executive board and three two-year terms on the U.S. Women’s Lacrosse Association executive board, to name just a few.

On April 8 she will be honored with the Shirley Aceto Award, awarded annually to a member of the instructional or professional faculty “who demonstrates an exceptional commitment to excellence in service to the campus community.” The award was established in recognition of Shirley Aceto’s more than 39 years of exemplary service in the office of the provost.

“To be counted among the recipients of the Aceto Award, many of whom I consider to be friends and mentors, is truly humbling. I am deeply honored to receive this recognition,” said Hawthorne. “I’m so fortunate to have worked with so many of my heroes, inspirational administrators and coaches such as Millie West, Barb Wetters and Debbie Hill, and more recently, Val Cushman, Matthew Lambert, President (Katherine) Rowe, Jeremy Martin and Brian Mann. There are countless others who have played an integral part in my journey. I am incredibly grateful to have had a front row seat from which to learn their lessons in leadership.

“To serve alma mater and especially our student-athletes is a great privilege and honor. William & Mary is, and always will be, a part of my identity that I hold dear.”

Athletics Director Brian Mann described Hawthorne as “a trailblazer whose very presence makes those around her better, whether they are student-athletes, coaches or administrators.”

“It is exceedingly rare for an individual to be a student-athlete at an institution then return to coach two sports, teach and spend decades as an administrator with ever-increasing responsibilities,” he continued, “but William & Mary has been the beneficiary of Peel’s life-long dedication.”

Jeremy Martin and Hawthorne have had a unique relationship since he arrived at W&M 15 years ago as a W&M Athletics graduate assistant — “the lowest position on the staff directory,” as he calls it.

“She welcomed me with respect as a professional while she was among the most revered head coaches in the department,” Martin said. “For those fortunate enough to work alongside her, she is decidedly on your team — all in for everyone’s success.”

She became not just a colleague but also sounding board and anchor to Martin in October 2020 when there was a sudden change in leadership in W&M Athletics. Martin, then an assistant to President Katherine A. Rowe, was named interim director.

“Peel was a rock for all those around her,” said Martin, now vice president for strategy and innovation. “A consummate professional, she provided the stability, confidence and warmth that ultimately restored trust between student-athletes, coaches and administrators. … She jumped in and devoted herself to being part of the solution.

“Throughout her lifelong relationship with William & Mary as a student-athlete, alumna, coach and administrator, Peel has made the university better — for everyone around her. Her moral compass is resolute, and her ability to lead by example remarkable. She is a coach of coaches, quick to sidle up to a teammate with her kind smile and offer a word of encouragement.”

Throughout her career, Hawthorne has played a leadership role across campus. She was elected to three terms on the Professionals and Professional Faculty Assembly, serving as president her final year. She was appointed to the President’s Task Force on Preventing Sexual Assault and Harassment, the Retention and Graduation Working Group, the Women and Philanthropy Internal Advisory Group, the 100 Years of Women Steering Committee and, most recently, the Learning Spaces Planning Committee.

She initiated diversity and inclusion and anti-racist training for the athletics department and student athletes, oversaw gender equity and Title IX compliance and served on numerous search committees for head coaches and senior leadership positions.

“Her portfolio is large, and she handles it with grace and the type of approachability that encourages both 18-year-old, first-year students and long-tenured coaches to seek her out for problem-solving, encouragement or a simple conversation,” Mann said. “She makes us all feel so interesting and important.”

Martin called her “a master of positive reinforcement.”

“Simply observing her at work is among the best leadership training anyone could receive,” he added. “It certainly has been for me.”

, Communications Specialist