By Bob Condron, USOC, retired
It seems like every sentence in Dr. Evie Dennis’s life should start with these words:
“She was the first woman to ever…”
And it could end with a variety of aspects of her life.
“… be a Vice President of the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
“… be a Chef de Mission of the U.S. Olympic Team.”
“… be the Superintendent of the Denver Public School System.”
“… be the first human being to desegregate the Denver Public School System.”
And it also includes:
“The first woman, non-Cuban, target of affection, to tell Fidel Castro, when he asked if she’d like to be the Cabinet Minister of Education for Cuba, to say “I’ll get back to you.”
Yep, Evie Dennis was the first… woman, black woman, human being to do a lot of things. She was that sunbeam that lit up the morning sky. And she had a smile to match.
It all started in the remotest area of Mississippi in 1924 in Farmhaven, Mississippi, a tiny unincorporated town right smack dab in the middle of the state. Evie was the eighth of nine children.
Her career in sports began when her daughter began competing in track. She then joined the national organization of the American Athletic Union. On her meteoric life she became the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president of the AAU. And in 1980 was acting president of the Athletic Congress, the governing body of track and field in the USA.
Pretty good for a parent who just wanted to watch her daughter run a 440-yard oval.
From there she joined the U.S. Olympic Committee and in 1981 became a vice president. She was chair of the U.S. Women’s Track and Field team. She served as Chef de Mission of two Pan American Games… in 1981 in Venezuela and 1991 in Havana, Cuba. And in 1988 in Seoul, Korea, she was the Chef de Mission for the U.S. Team for the Olympic Games.
What does the Chef de Mission do? Well, everything, actually. If it has to do with the staff, the athletes, the organization committee, the International Olympic Committee, the Chef de Mission is the point person. And in 1988 it was Dr. Evie Dennis, the first woman to serve in that position in a land that asked, “Where is Mr. Dennis?”
In 1992 she received The Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee. In 2003 she was inducted in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In 2008 she was inducted into the Colorado Woman’s Hall of Fame.
Sports is a part of what she’s done in her life, but her life outside sports is a Hall of Fame career.
She began her career as an asthma researcher in Denver. She began teaching in 1966, was deputy superintendent in 1988 and was superintendent in 1990 and 1994.
And, a footnote in her illustrious career, she was tasked with desegregating the Denver Public Schools.
Ninety-eight years after Farmhaven, Mississippi, she’s still climbing untold heights.