In the days before advent of computers and sophisticated technology, the University of Georgia’s ticket operation was managed by the first human computer I ever knew — Virginia Whitehead.
She began work with the UGA ticket office in 1948 when the demands were without pressure — mainly because there was little volume to speak of. Her headaches, when she became ticket manager, were centered around the annual match-up with Georgia Tech, especially when that rival game was played in Athens.
Things would change when Joel Eaves and Vince Dooley took over in 1964. Eaves was a persnickety businessman out of necessity. Georgia was awash in red ink when he arrived on campus. Eaves’ underscoring of efficiency, frugality and the integrity of the system made him and Virginia birds of a feather.
Then Dooley’s upstart teams brought about serious ticket demand. Ticket scalpers found their way to Lumpkin Street. Within three years, there was an urgency to expand Sanford Stadium. Following the ’66 Tech game, as Georgia began preparations for the heady experience of playing SMU in the Cotton Bowl, a construction crew moved in to deck both sides of Sanford Stadium, a nine-plus-month process which had sidewalks and access ramps being paved as late as Friday before kickoff versus Mississippi State in September 1967.
Another day of rain and some fans would have had to have gained access by catwalk. It was that close.
Suddenly, the first lady of the Bulldog tickets began an overtime routine which defined her life. Talk about hands-on! She was on the job early and not only stayed late, she took work home with her. Her record keeping was kept on index cards in a box about the size of a shoebox. In fact, in the low-budget era of the Bulldogs, she may well have started out with shoe boxes.
Those index cards reflected the contribution and season ticket history of every Bulldog supporter. When it numbered into the thousands, she soldiered on, tirelessly. Nobody could catch her making a mistake.
To begin with, she had an impeccable memory. Then there was the indefatigable work ethic. She had energy without pause. She had extraordinary telephone skills. She had patience and she was social on the phone, which made the Georgia contributors feel good.
She had, as we have appreciated historically in medicine, a very good bedside manner. You call Virginia, you knew you would get a return call. If you had a problem, she would try to solve it. With the passing of time, she emerged into the computer era, a godsend to her and her capable staff, all of whom were imbued with her work ethic, patience and tolerance.
She was constantly amused by the tales of “woe-is-me” ticket episodes, especially on Saturday mornings: “My dog ate my tickets,” or “My son flushed my tickets down the toilet.”
The most amusing tale had to do with a guy who was in the Caribbean and wouldn’t be able to get his money in on time. When Virginia suggested calling his wife to get her to assist, he almost had apoplexy. Virginia soon figured out his wife did not know he was in the islands and since he was not traveling solo, it would not have been in his best interest to invoke the assistance of his wife. Dick Tracy could have learned from Virginia.
Most of all Virginia, who died last weekend, was an enduring goodwill ambassador for the Bulldogs. She forever made friends for the university. She and her husband, Comer, were like so many other husband-wife teams on campus with a bent for serving the university with honor, devotion and selflessness.
She loved Georgia and wanted to accommodate its people to the best of her ability. Georgia has never had a greater friend than Virginia Whitehead, the first lady of Bulldog tickets for over 35 years.
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.