Trailblazing professor Thaddeus Spratlen leaves a distinguished legacy

Thaddeus Spratlen, a professor emeritus of marketing, was a trailblazing business educator, a prolific scholar, a mentor and role model for generations of students, and a formidable advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.

He was born in 1930 in Tennessee. Showing academic promise, he was sent to live with an older brother in Cleveland, where he could find educational opportunity. Spratlen enlisted in the Army in 1948 and earned his officer’s commission in 1952. While stationed in Virginia, he met his wife Lois Price, a nursing student. He served a year of combat duty in Korea, calling in artillery strikes from dangerous forward positions. “People seeing me 20 years later—by then wearing dashikis and into the culture of the late ’60s, early ’70s—would have hardly believed that I was once a military officer doing this kind of work,” Spratlen said in a 2006 interview.

Spratlen made use of the G.I. Bill, earning B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Ohio State University. The 1960s job market was limited for African Americans. Submitting his curriculum vitae without a photograph, Spratlen landed a job at Western Washington University. After eight years there and three at UCLA, Spratlen joined the UW in 1972—the first Black professor at the Foster School.

He distinguished himself as a significant figure around campus. “Very early on, I had a desire to work on, study and teach issues surrounding race and ethnicity,” he said. Spratlen’s research explored retail management and strategy and probed urban, racial, ethnic and social issues around marketing and related business disciplines. His work grew into a course that deployed student teams to consult with minority-owned local businesses. The class inspired the Consulting and Business Development Center.

Spratlen also served as board president for the Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonné Project and received the Frederick Douglass Scholar Award from the National Council of Black Studies. He died May 18 at the age of 90.