Dr. Charles Sprague was a big man, both physically and in his impact on UT Southwestern Medical Center. Sure, he was the son of a former Dallas mayor, but he had worked hard to succeed on his own all his life. In early years, he was captain of both SMU’s basketball and football teams. Then he went on to earn his medical degree at UT Medical Branch in Galveston. Following a “stint in the Navy and service in the South Pacific,” he headed to New Orleans to start his medical career. Why not Dallas? Well, one suspects he wanted to be his own man and not the son of the former mayor.
It was in New Orleans that he conceived of an idea — the construction of a new medical school and university hospital campus away from downtown New Orleans. But Tulane’s governing board found it too risky.
But his vision was just what UT Southwestern wanted and needed. According to his successor, Dr. Kern Wildenthal, “He [Charles] had an instinctive vision of what was required to move the institution to greatness and an ability to persuade everyone he dealt with of the importance and value of his goals. He was the classic example of the right man for the right job at the right time.
“Dr. Sprague’s integrity and trustworthiness were absolute. He inspired and enriched the lives of all of us who had the privilege of working with him and learning from him.”
And while Charlie died in 2005, hundreds of his old friends from medicine (Dr. John Warner, Dr. Daniel Podolsky, Dr. Ken Altshuler and Dr. Phil Evans) and life (Cissy and Plack Carr Jr., Jess Hay, Ruben Esquivel, Jan Black and Carla Bass) were joined by friends and
families (Caroline Rose Hunt, Nancy and Herbert Hunt, Mary McDermott Cook, State Rep. Dan Branch, James Huffines, Kim Wargo and Louise Eiseman) of the award recipients Lydia Hill and Ute and Rolf Haberecht Wednesday at the Hilton Anatole.
When asked what she planned to say in her acceptance speech, Lyda said, “I’m going to use it as a chance to speak up and thank UT Southwestern. Not enough people do that. Especially the media, if you know what I mean!”
According to a quick check with others at the event, Lyda was a part of the majority in that feeling.
Following dinner, Southwestern Medical Foundation Chairman of the Board Bill Solomon recognized many outstanding people in the audience including Charles’ widow Alayne Sprague, who was accompanied by Cheri Zettel. The two women met when Charles was in need of hospice care. Cheri admitted that she was nervous when she interviewed with the legendary Spragues to provide the hospice care. Later she would find out that the Spragues had been worried that they might not meet up with her approval. Thanks to this meeting, Charles’ final days were eased and Alayne learned the value of hospice care and has become a major advocate for this much needed service in the transition of life.
In describing UT Southwestern, Bill said, “This institution truly is second to none. No other medical school has had as many as four Nobel Laureates.” He went on to say that UTSW trains and produces more doctors than any other institution in Texas.
With the recent retirement of Kern as the foundation’s CEO/President, Bill officially introduced Kathleen Gibson, who succeeded Kern on March 1. She’s got her work cut out for her. During his tenure, Kern took the foundation from $40M to $100M+.
In presenting the awards, it was revealed that all three had requested that Kern make the presentation.
Lyda was up first and in typical Lyda fashion announced that she had just had her 40th annual physical with Dr. Ken Cooper. She recalled that back in the 70’s, his “aerobics” program wasn’t so well respected. Today it’s not only lauded, he’s working with UTSW — “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
Lyda then joked about a study that’s been undertaken to prove “that dark chocolate is good for you. My friends thought I’d probably funded the research.”
Getting serious, she pointed out that UTSW has 11,000 employees and is an economic driver for Dallas: “UTSW has total integrity. . . We are lucky in Dallas that we have Southwestern Medical Center, and that it’s here for us.”
Following Lyda was Rolf, who spoke for himself and his wife, about his years working at the Texas Instruments, where he rose through the ranks from a junior engineering job to corporate VP “responsible for the company’s worldwide semiconductor operations.” Through such leaders as Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott, Cecil Green and Patrick Haggerty, Ute and Rolf were inspired: “Erik Jonsson told us all that we have a responsibility to give back to the community.”