Pat Summitt remembered: Thousands celebrate the life of Lady Vols legend

Tennessee's coach coach Pat Summitt, left, runs her teams practice session for the NCAA women's basketball tournament first round games in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 17, 2007. Tennessee plays Drake on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Fans, friends, family and more came together Thursday night to say a final goodbye to legendary Lady Vols Head Coach Pat Summitt.

A public Celebration of Life ceremony was held at Thompson Boling Arena, with thousands in attendance, ranging from friends and family, fans, former players, state dignitaries, colleagues and more.

The ceremony began with the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes by Knoxville Pipes and Drums. Good Morning America anchor and personal friend of Summitt’s Robin Roberts delivered the opening remarks.

“Two words that described her so well: amazing and grace,” she said. “We are here tonight because we back Pat… If you want to cry, you let those tears flow. If you want to cheer when you hear ‘Rocky Top,’ you cheer!”

Roberts called the Pat Summitt Foundation, the charitable organization she set up for Alzheimer’s research, her last gift.

PHOTOS: Celebration of Life for Pat Summitt

Summit’s son Tyler spoke first, explaining how to him she was larger than life, but a great mother.

“She had three hearts: a heart of a mother, a heart for others, a heart for Jesus Christ,” said her son Tyler Summitt.

Tyler Summitt shared personal stories about growing up with Pat Summitt as a mother. “She said son, you’re not being aggressive,” she said while coaching Tyler’s soccer team at age 6. Tyler’s reply was that he was playing goalie.

“She was the strongest person that I know. That I will ever know,” he said. “Let’s strive to have a heart like Pat Summitt.”

Former Lady Vols players and assistant coaches under Summitt shared their stories about how while she had such an immeasurable impact on the game of basketball, she was more than just a coach.

“Left foot, right foot, breathe, repeat,” said Shelley Sexton-Collier, quoting her former coach on how she was handling her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “That’s her message – that we should be so concerned about others that we don’t have time to worry about ourselves. It’s always about something bigger than you.”

“Pat was more than our coach. She was our friend. She was out mentor. She was our leader. She was out mother. She was our father. And to me, she was my choir,” said Tamika Catchings.

Numerous dignitaries were in attendance including Gov. Bill Haslam, Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, UT Football Coach Butch Jones, and other women’s basketball coaches like Geno Auriemma, head coach of the UConn Huskies, a frequent rival of Summitt’s.

Current head coach and former assistant coach Holly Warlick made the crowd laugh as she shared stories of Pat Summitt the speedster – the time she was pulled over when she was young and told the officer her name was “Sandra Lee Fields” – and the fact that she kept her purse in her trunk so when she was pulled over, the officer would see a trunk full of autographed basketballs.

“Of course, we all know what the next line was going to be: ‘You slow down, Ms. Pat.’ All of a sudden they’re on a first name basis,” said Warlick.

Former Vol and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning said he was wrestling to say a final goodbye to a good friend.

“This coliseum is full of people wanting nothing more than to remember every word, every glance, every victory, every little gesture Pat Summit shared with the world. It is a rarity to attend a Celebration of Life service for someone who literally changed history,” said Manning. “She changed the history of the sport she loved and sports in general.”

“I seriously doubt that it will be Pat’s thoughts captured on paper that will echo most for people years from now. If you ask me, Pat’s true greatness was in her actions – the way she walked onto that court and commanded the sidelines. The way her presence electrified and her stare quieted a room. It was the substance of her life, the example that will resonate most,” Manning said.

Manning said even as Summitt’s memory faded, she still recognized him on TV and said he was her friend.

Dolly Parton released a statement Thursday on the late coach.

“Even though Pat and I would not be considered best friends, we had a very special bond. We were both proud of the fact that we were born and raised Tennessee girls and proud of each other’s success. She was not only a great inspiration to me, but to every woman everywhere. She was so loved and respect…and obviously so very talented. Pat will live forever in our hearts, our memories and in the record books. Glory to you Pat Summit.”

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