Suzanne Mitchell, the director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders from 1976 through 1989, passed away Tuesday evening at the age of 73 following a long and brave battle with pancreatic cancer. Under Mitchell's stewardship, the DCC rose to international fame and iconic status. She set a standard for cheerleading, dance performance, and game day entertainment.
"Suzanne was a pioneer in the world of professional sports as it pertained to cheerleaders and entertainment." said Cowboys Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Office Charlotte Anderson. "She was innovative, creative and always ahead of those who followed and tried to emulate the style and quality of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Her impact on our home games remains to this day, and her inspiration will always have a presence within our organization—and for fans of the DCC—for generations to come."
"My career with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders took me on an incredible journey that I never could have envisioned," Mitchell wrote in a Survivor's Story for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in August, 2015. "Getting that job was definitely a game-changer (no pun intended) in my life.
"But it hadn't been my intent; the position hadn't been on my radar. However, I had made a good impression on Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm during my time as his assistant, and he hadn't forgotten our very first encounter. I was interviewing for a job with the Cowboys Football Club in 1975, and Tex asked me where I wanted to be in five years. I replied, 'Your chair looks pretty comfortable.' Tex roared with laughter, reached his hand across his desk to shake mine, and said, 'You're hired!' The following year, out of the clear blue, he asked me to oversee the cheerleaders in my 'spare time' after the 1976 Super Bowl."
Mitchell led the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders with passion, poise, and finesse. In 1979, she instituted the DCC Show group's annual visits to U.S. military installations around the world, and presently, the Cowboys Cheerleaders have made more international tours with the USO than any other entertainment group. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were also the subjects of two made-for-television movies that were widely successful broadcasts in 1979 and 1980.
During an event three years ago, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Alumni and current DCC gathered with Mitchell in an event they called "Strength & Spirit". On that special evening, they were able to share memories of the great times, as well as honor her legacy. For many, the memories stretch well beyond the sidelines of Texas Stadium on game day. They stretch worldwide, including USO Tours to military bases across the globe.
The DCC Alumni used the following analogy to describe Mitchell's tenure: "If the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders organization could be compared to a bus, Suzanne Mitchell built the bus. She was the engine, she built the framework, she pioneered the path. Some of us got on the bus and stayed a while, some got off. This bus we call the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders has covered a lot of ground. From guard posts in Korea to mountain tops in Turkey, to nursing home visits, to movies. Suzanne blazed a path that everyone now follows."
"I'm proud to be the Director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and drive the bus Suzanne built," says Kelli Finglass, current DCC director and squad member during Mitchell's tenure. "But mostly I'm proud of the stops we made along the way, making people happy with the global touch of Suzanne Mitchell."
Mitchell was grateful for the support she received from her former cheerleaders as well as Cowboys fans, and she wrote about it in her Survivor's Story.
"After my diagnosis, I was flooded with an outpouring of support. Some 500 cards landed in my mailbox, and I received so many flowers after my surgery that the hospital had to start turning them away. I really had no idea how many lives I had touched.
"Girls I hadn't seen in 30 years were coming by to visit, calling. I was overwhelmed by all the love. We're all connected in this tapestry of life, and when something tragic happens, there's also a magic that happens that draws us all back together. Now we can all work together once again for the greater good.
"I believe that my diagnosis happened for a reason. My life has been extraordinary, exciting and so outrageous that at times it hasn't seemed real. If the life I've led can be used to create awareness for the disease, wonderful. This is a perfect example of something happening through me.
"And I keep in mind that it's not what happens to you … it's what happens through you."