Welsh-born Henry Hayden “Pop” Lannigan was UVA’s first great athletic trainer and coach.
W.A. “Doc” Lambeth (Med 1892, Grad 1898) was the University’s first de facto athletics director.
Richard Dabney Anderson, on the other hand, is rarely mentioned in the annals of Virginia athletics. A prominent businessman on the Corner in the 1880s and 1890s, he made his living selling textbooks, school supplies and sporting goods and renting rooms to students.
Yet in 1930, in its quest to find the “Father of Athletics at the University in the same sense that Jefferson is Father of the Institution itself,” Corks & Curls took the measure of all three men and declared Anderson the clear choice.
If nine decades of college athletics since have taught us anything, it’s that it was probably the right call.
Who was Anderson? He was the athletic department’s first major booster, a businessman who kept the operation afloat when there were few other sources of revenue, while also outfitting UVA teams with equipment.
“There is no telling how much money he and his firm advanced to our Athletic Association in those days, and without his splendid business sense and constant advice, I do not know on what financial rock we would have split,” former baseball captain Murray McGuire (Col 1893, Law 1896) wrote in the April 1904 Alumni News.
Anderson opened Anderson Brothers Bookstore in 1876. Athletics at the University were loosely organized in those days. Much of the competition was intramural, although the best players would sometimes face outside teams. Baseball and football gained intercollegiate status in 1888-89.
To administer sports, UVA formed The General Athletic Association. Anderson served as treasurer.
“Dick Anderson’s job was to find the money for the expansion of activities. That failing, he supplied the credit,” wrote Corks & Curls. “He combined sound judgment with the willingness to take a chance.”
Anderson’s first big roll of the dice came in 1893, when he put together a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair, site of the first national championship for college baseball. Virginia surprised the experts by finishing with the second-best overall record.
It was “undoubtedly a great advertisement for the University in athletic circles,” McGuire wrote in Alumni News.
Anderson later arranged a tour for the baseball team and is credited with helping bring about one of college football’s first inter-sectional contests, a game against the University of Michigan in Detroit in 1899.
Anderson died in June 1899. The bookstore he founded stayed in business until 1988, and its name is still visible on the side of the building that housed it. But the role he played in helping launch UVA athletics is not much known today, says Coy Barefoot (Grad ’97), author of The Corner : A History of Student Life at the University of Virginia.
As the only seller of sporting goods near the University, Anderson had a financial interest in UVA athletics, Barefoot said in an email. However, “He was no doubt a true fan of sports and of UVA athletics in particular.”
Whatever his motivation, Anderson made an impact. The UVA athletic department was considered among the best in the South when he died, “with clean sport firmly established at this University for all time to come,” wrote Corks & Curls.
Given the outsized role of money in college athletics today, he was a man ahead of his time.