By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz
When Peter Lippett ’58 unexpectedly earned a spot on the Cal men's crew, he never dreamed that he would be honored 67 years later with the Peter Lippett Founder’s Scholarship for the Cal women’s crew program.
Lippett didn’t enroll at Cal with dreams of athletic achievements. After all, he was a self-professed “runt” as a freshman. But the then 17-year-old joined Cal crew after legendary coach Jim Lemmon identified Lippett as being the perfect weight for a coxswain in the 1954 freshman registration line.
“All of a sudden this huge hand clamped down on my shoulder,” Lippett recalled. “A booming voice said, ‘Son, how much do you weigh?’ At that time, I was 101 pounds. Lemmon responded, ‘Son, let’s talk about crew and you.’ All of the unbelievable experiences I’ve had for decades stemmed from that. It is amazing how one moment can turn a life.”
Lippett, a resident of Orinda, California, has a long legacy of rowing involvement at the collegiate, national and international levels. His laurels include four years as a Cal coxswain; many years as a rowing referee, journalist and regatta organizer; election as the first chairman of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Rowing Committee; founder of the Cal women’s crew program in 1974; manager of U.S. women’s rowing teams at three World Championships and two Olympics; 12 years on the Board of the U.S. Olympic Committee; and staff roles at several U.S. summer and winter Olympics delegations.
Cal women’s crew had a profound impact on Lippett’s life, inspiring him and his wife of 47 years, Joellen, to include in their estate plan a $1 million gift to endow a scholarship for the program. Lippett never imagined that Cal oarswomen would benefit from his commitment in his lifetime. However, through a generous gift from the Rogers Family Foundation, Lippett’s estate gift will be brought forward to be celebrated in his lifetime by the creation of the Peter Lippett Founder’s Scholarship. Lippett has enthusiastically agreed to amend his estate plan and pledge his $1 million gift to the Cal men’s crew’s endowment.
“I say it often that all credit goes to the creative thinking of Andy Rogers,” Lippett explained. “I had no expectation or need to see the results of my scholarship. My reality was that it would happen when I wasn’t here. So, it is remarkable that I can now experience the benefits for scholarship recipients and the women’s crew.”
“Cal crew does not exist without the Friends of Cal Crew,” Rogers said. “Peter Lippett is certainly one of them, and his incredible service to both programs and our student-athletes should be recognized for years to come. The Rogers family is excited to participate in this unique opportunity and continuing team effort to ensure crew is an ongoing exceptional Olympic sport at Cal."
Thanks to the generosity of Lippett and the Rogers Family Foundation, both the women’s and the men’s crew will add a full scholarship this fall.
“We are extremely grateful for Peter’s visionary leadership in contributing to the creation of a women’s crew program at the nation’s No. 1 public university,” said Cal women’s crew head coach Al Acosta. “Hundreds of our leaders have grown in all facets of their lives through their dedicated participation as student-athletes for Cal women’s crew. The additional scholarship support made possible by Peter and the Rogers Family Foundation will provide more opportunities for student-athletes to benefit from a Cal degree.”
Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton echoed his appreciation for Lippett’s and the Rogers family’s steadfast commitments to Cal men’s and women’s rowing.
“Peter has played an instrumental role in the development and growth of our nationally-regarded women’s crew program and was a stellar student-athlete for our men’s crew,” Knowlton added. “The increased scholarship support for both programs will support academic and athletic excellence for future generations of Golden Bears. We deeply appreciate the roles Peter and the Rogers family have played to see this support to fruition.”
Golden Bear pride and embarrassment that there wasn’t a women’s crew at his alma mater motivated Lippett to lead an initiative to start the Cal women’s crew. At the 1974 World Championships where Lippett was managing the U.S. Women’s National Team, he saw that Team USA was comprised mainly of athletes from East Coast universities.
“Because of my love for Cal, it was painfully embarrassing,” Lippett shared. “How could all these women athletes at all those universities be rowing, and Cal – with photographs of three past Olympic gold medal crews on the boathouse wall – not have a women’s team?”
When Lippett returned home after the 1974 Worlds, he invited a few local club rowers to his home. With their encouragement, he constructed a women’s crew proposal and first-year budget for Dr. Barbara Hoepner, the acting coordinator of Women's Intercollegiate Sports at Cal.
With Hoepner’s passionate support of the new program, Lippett asked Daig O’Connell ’72, who stroked the Cal men’s crew, to become the women’s crew’s inaugural coach. After the amazing interest from 66 women at the first meeting, Lippett served as O’Connell’s first-year assistant despite no previous coaching experience.
O’Connell coached the raw recruits to unexpected racing speed that first season. After going undefeated in West Coast dual racing, that first crew made the finals at the pre-NCAA National Women’s Rowing Association nationals. Cal women’s crew went on to claim an NWRA crown in 1980 and NCAA titles in 2005, 2006, 2016 and 2018, and has consistently been among the nation’s best programs.
“What an amazing and close group of women they were,” Lippett reflected on that first season. “They turned out to be fabulous athletes and even better people. I will never forget any of them.”
Lippett was always interested in sports, but due to his size, he knew he wasn’t likely to participate in sports such as football and basketball. But he had always been enamored of the values and competition of the Olympic Games.
“To have Jim Lemmon approach me and to find out that rowing was an Olympic sport just spun my head,” Lippett recalled.
Lippett came to Cal not knowing what he would aspire to be, and he somewhat blindly chose political science as his major. He decided to become a lawyer, and after earning his Cal degree, he was admitted to Stanford Law School. He cheerfully mentioned that he went to the right law school for the wrong reason.
“I went there because I didn’t think I’d want to spend seven years in the same place, and the minute I got there I realized it wasn’t as interesting as Cal,” he said. “I spent many of my weekends coming back to Berkeley.”
Lippett went on to a successful career as an estate planning lawyer. He shared that while he enjoys his profession, his life is much more than law. Peter and Joellen were both born with wanderlust. They happily combined world travel while Peter was performing functions for international women’s rowing and the U.S. Olympic Committee, have continued exploring the world, and can’t wait to resume their travels, pandemic permitting.
Whatever adventures await Peter, he will always have an interest in providing opportunities for Cal women’s crew’s student-athletes.
“I completely believe in Title IX and everything it stands for,” Lippett stated in reference to the landmark legislation requiring gender equality. “I am delighted to be able to contribute to keeping women’s athletics moving forward, particularly rowing and particularly at Cal. You put all that together, and my desire to give support is obvious.”
*The Rogers Family Foundation Cal alumni include T. Gary Rogers ’63, Kathleen Tuck Rogers ’64, Andy Rogers ’90, Janine Rogers ’90, Amy B. Rogers ’94, Brian Rogers ’95 and Katie Rogers ’00.