Charles C. Sprague, M.D., 1916-2005
Former President of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

Dr. Charles SpragueCharles Cameron Sprague was an outstanding physician and teacher, a valued friend, and a leader who possessed great personal warmth. He also had a vision: to make the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas one of the most highly respected medical centers in the country.

Born in Dallas on November 16, 1916, and the youngest of eight children, Charles Sprague was raised in a household devoted to church and service to the community. His father, George Sprague, served as a Dallas City Council member and mayor in the late 1930s.

Dr. Charles Sprague catching a footballThe young Charles Sprague was a gifted athlete who served as captain of the football and basketball teams while studying business administration at Southern Methodist University. He had never considered a career in medicine—until he dislocated his knee during football practice. His experience in the hospital and with his physicians ignited an interest in health care; he decided to remain at SMU for an additional year to complete a dual degree in science and business administration, with plans to attend medical school.

Choosing UTMB over Baylor College of Medicine, he left Dallas for Galveston and earned his medical degree in 1943. With World War II still in progress, he joined the Navy and began residency training at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He admired the doctors who taught and served there, and he decided to pursue internal medicine as his specialty. Upon completion of his residency, he served in the South Pacific and at the naval hospital in Corona, California.

In 1947, he went to New Orleans as a civilian internal medicine resident at Charity Hospital. Just a year later, he was named a fellow and instructor at Tulane University’s School of Medicine, where he later established the Division of Hematology. He went on to Washington University in St. Louis and Oxford University Medical School in England to study hematology, returning to Tulane in 1952 as an assistant professor and director of the hematology laboratory. By 1963, he was a full professor and dean of the medical school.

In 1967 he was approached by UT Southwestern in Dallas, which had been impressed by Dr. Sprague’s talent for building quality programs. The faculty and the Dallas community wanted to see the school grow. Knowing he would have faculty and community support, he accepted the offer to return to Texas and make things happen in Dallas. His accomplishments exceeded everyone’s expectations.

a young Dr. Charles SpragueIn 1967, UT Southwestern was a medical school consisting of three classroom buildings attached to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Dr. Sprague believed that a strong basic science program combined with excellent clinical care would create an outstanding medical institution, and he used his great energy to fulfill that vision. His plans included a major expansion of physical facilities, a larger faculty, and recruitment of the very best clinicians and researchers, including young scientists who had great potential. He also helped create an environment that fostered close collaboration and mutual support among clinicians and basic scientists.

Under Dr. Sprague’s leadership, UT Southwestern saw unprecedented growth and expansion in the 1970s. Medical school enrollment doubled and a $40 million building program (a record sum at that time in Dallas) resulted in new research facilities, administrative offices, classroom space and a medical library. Training programs in research and allied health were expanded, making the medical school a true academic health center. An additional 300,000 square feet of new building space was added in the 1980s; upon his retirement in August 1986, building projects initiated and completed during Dr. Sprague’s presidency totaled more than $80 million.

The faculty he built was every bit as impressive as the growth of UT Southwestern’s physical plant. During his tenure, the university attracted eight faculty who would become members of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as two faculty who would go on to win the first Nobel prize ever awarded to Texas researchers.

Although Dr. Sprague handed over the reins of UT Southwestern to Dr. Kern Wildenthal in 1986, he did not retire from serving the university. The president emeritus joined Southwestern Medical Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to attract philanthropic support to the Dallas health center.

Dr. Sprague became the foundation’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer in 1988, and assets went from $10 million to $100 million during his tenure. He was named chairman emeritus of the foundation in 1995.

Sprague Clinical CenterDr. Sprague held the respect and admiration of friends and colleagues around the world. He served in medical societies, civic organizations, church groups and task forces too numerous to name. He was among the earliest recipients of the prestigious Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumnus Award, bestowed upon him by UTMB in 1966. To honor his years of devoted service and leadership, UT Southwestern established the Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science in 1982 and the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D., Chair in Medical Science in 1988. In 1989, the university’s new clinical science building was named in his honor, and in 1995 he received Southwestern Medical Foundation’s prestigious Ho Din Award, which honors the knowledge, understanding and compassion of a physician. In 1996, the foundation renamed its community service award after him as a fitting recognition of individuals who, like Dr. Sprague, commit their time and talent to improving medical education, research and patient care. And, in 2003, the Hoblitzelle Foundation, UTMB and Southwestern Medical Foundation established the Charles C. Sprague, M.D., Distinguished Professorship in Internal Medicine in UTMB’s Division of Hematology and Oncology.

Although Dr. Sprague passed away in September 2005 at the age of 88, his legacy of accomplishment and leadership will inspire generations of caregivers, scientists and health care administrators. His career is proof that great things can come from the powerful combination of vision and determination.

Dr. Sprague is survived by his wife, Alayne Sprague, as well as his daughter, Cynthia C. Hardesty, and two grandchildren, Cameron Hardesty and Michael Hardesty. Other members of the extended family include four stepdaughters—Laura Reynolds, Victoria Nelson, Susan Nelson and Betty Heckman—and seven step-grandchildren.

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