Respected and loved by many, Dr. Charles Sprague was the first President of UT Southwestern Medical Center. During his tenure he oversaw the growth of a small but promising medical school into a vibrant and comprehensive medical and life sciences center.
Born in 1916 and the son of a former Dallas mayor, Dr. Sprague followed three older brothers to Southern Methodist University on an athletic scholarship. There, teammates elected him captain of both the football and basketball teams. Although a knee injury cut Dr. Sprague’s athletic career short, the medical care he received inspired him to pursue medicine.
After graduating from SMU, Dr. Sprague attended the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He then served as a naval officer during World War II, followed by a medical residency at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Fascinated by the physiology of blood, Dr. Sprague secured a hematology fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and at Oxford School of Medicine in England.
His interests brought him back to New Orleans where he eventually became a Professor and head of the Hematology Department at Tulane University School of Medicine. Dr. Sprague had expected to spend his career researching and teaching, but at the encouragement of a colleague he decided to put his name on a list of prospects to become Dean of Tulane’s medical school. The decision paid off and he was named Dean in 1963.
In 1967, he was approached to become Dean of UT Southwestern Medical School and return to his hometown. Dr. Sprague credited strong community support with influencing his decision to accept, even though only three small academic buildings existed on campus. The successful recruitment was fortuitous for UT Southwestern since five years later Dr. Sprague was appointed its first President.
“I was the right man in the right place at the correct time,” he told The Dallas Morning News in 1982. “The faculty wanted to create a first-rate medical school and the basic scientific research that goes with it. There was federal money available at the time and, as importantly, Dallas was ready to do it. It took a combination of all those things.”
Dr. Sprague initiated a $40 million building expansion, unprecedented in Texas at the time; doubled the Medical School’s enrollment within 10 years; and expanded allied health and research training programs. His vision and ability to build consensus positioned UT Southwestern for future greatness as one of the leading medical institutions in the nation.
After almost 15 years as President, Dr. Sprague retired from UT Southwestern and became President and Chief Executive Officer of Southwestern Medical Foundation. In 1991, the Foundation created the Sprague Award to recognize outstanding philanthropists who have provided significant support to advance health care through contributions of time, leadership, and resources.
Dr. Sprague also became both a President Emeritus of UT Southwestern and Chairman Emeritus of the Foundation. Three academic chairs at UT Southwestern bear his name, as does the Charles Cameron Sprague Clinical Science Building on the South Campus. Additionally, one of the six academic colleges at UT Southwestern Medical School is named for him.