On one of the worst days of his life, Tom Cronan gave his wife some of the best advice by which to live.
On the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Joan Cronan remembers her husband saying: “God didn’t give me pancreatic cancer. That just happened. God cares about how we respond.” Tom Cronan, who died in 2006, was Joan’s husband for 40 years. He was instrumental in his wife becoming the women’s athletic director at Tennessee in 1983. He encouraged her to apply for the opening, despite the family being happy in Charleston, S.C. Joan said that her husband had just been named professor of the year at The Citadel.
“Joan, I love to teach and I can teach anywhere,” she recalled him saying, “but you can make a bigger difference from a national platform for women’s athletics at Tennessee. So let’s go. ” She was the Lady Vols athletic director until 2012, helping to build one of the nation’s most popular and respected women’s programs.
“Tom was as proud of what I did as I was,” Joan said. “He also had a way of keeping my feet on theground. He was a great partner.” She has applied her late husband’s philosophy to her dealings with former Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt, who announced in August of 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia Alzheimer’s type and stepped down after the following season.
“She’s shown so much courage through this,” said Cronan, who retired last week after three-plus decades as a UT administrator. “It’s hard not to follow suit.” Cronan noted that Summitt has maintained her sense of humor. Cronan recounted walking off a green during a round of golf with her last fall. Cronan thought she shot a 5 on the hole and Summitt replied, “You had a 6 and I’m the one with Alzheimer’s.” “She can still get you,” Cronan said.
Cronan said she’s trying to pay back Summitt for her 38-year UT career by helping raise funds for Summitt’s foundation, which makes grants to nonprofit organizations that provide Alzheimer’s education and research as well as support services.
“God didn’t give Pat dementia; it just happened,” Cronan said. “And He cares about how we respond. Let’s be an example.”
Knoxville News Sentinel
By Dan Fleser