Rich Hadley, champion of university district, medical school, Fairchild and other economic drivers, dies at 76

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Remembering Rich Hadley – We can honor and celebrate the legacy of our friend and mentor in the following ways:

  • A memorial service with family and friends will be held April 22 at 10 AM at Whitworth Church, 312 W. Hawthorne Rd. Spokane, WA, 99218. 
  • A community remembrance will be held at The Historic Davenport on May 3 from 4-6 PM. 
  • Memorials may be given to Innovia Foundation. Please make checks payable to the Innovia Foundation, 818 W. Riverside, Suite 650, Spokane, WA 99201 with “Hadley Memorial gift” on the memo line or contribute online here. Gifts will support the Rich & Rita Hadley Health Sciences Student Scholarship at the WSU College of Medicine, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives for staff training, and organizations supporting ALS research.

(as reported in the Spokesman-Review by Treva Lind; photo courtesy the Journal of Business)

Rich Hadley, who led the region’s business chamber now called Greater Spokane Incorporated for 21 years, died on Sunday. He was 76.

Hadley is credited by many Spokane leaders for his vision and partnerships that created the University District and Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

A former U.S. Navy air intelligence officer during the Vietnam War, Hadley forged a strong relationship with Air Force officials, becoming one of the region’s foremost advocates for protecting Fairchild Air Force Base and boosting its future role.

Hadley lived in Colbert with his wife of more than 50 years, Rita.

“Rich was a trusted friend and pillar of our community,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “His leadership at GSI was defined by a passion to make Spokane a better place, and he succeeded, leaving behind a legacy that will carry on for years to come.”

Hadley wasn’t someone to whom you could say no, said Elaine Couture, who retired in May 2021 as regional chief executive for Providence Health & Services in Washington and Montana.

“Rich was a gentle giant,” Couture said. “He was very visionary and you didn’t tell Rich no, because he’d always say, ‘Well, it’s not no, it’s how do we get there and what is it we can do.’

“All the businesses could have a variety of different goals that they wanted to accomplish but he brought us all together in consensus to make certain that when we went to advocate in Washington, D.C., or in Olympia, that we had the same goals for Spokane collectively, which I think got us a lot of the monies and policy-making that was absolutely essential. He wove it all together.”

Couture said Hadley understood Fairchild’s importance in the region, along with the role of its medical system. She remembers that he thought Spokane could be well-served with two medical schools, which required moving WSU’s health sciences departments from Pullman to Spokane.

“He got us all talking about that, and so then it was accomplished that the pharmacy school moved up, which then allowed for Washington State to get the medical school, and now we’ve got the partnership with UW and Gonzaga. He just understood that health sciences was a major driver for a lot of the other innovative industries that would come out of the health sciences field.”

She said Hadley was a consensus builder. Many people joined in creating Spokane’s University District, but he got the conversations rolling.

“He just understood the connections for people and how the businesses interrelated, and what were the drivers for the economy. He just had a way of bringing people together. … He mapped out the steps politically, and the advocacy side.”

Couture added: “I always hate to give credit to just one person, but you’ve got to have that one person who has the spark. He was definitely the spark that got things going.”

Greater Spokane CEO Alisha Benson said Hadley was a mentor to her.

“Rich is such a huge champion for Spokane and continuing to help us live into what is possible, the little engine that could,” Benson said.

He continued to serve on boards and worked with the state Association of Washington Business after his GSI retirement in 2014.

“There are obviously lots of partners and individuals who have been part of the story, but Rich was certainly a leader and visionary around the University District and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, the Spokane Teaching Health Center and so much of what we see there today,” she added.

Hadley became chief executive officer and president of Greater Spokane Chamber of Commerce in 1993. In 2007, the business-advocacy group changed its name to Greater Spokane Incorporated. Hadley became a business fixture and honed GSI’s reputation for building consensus among regional leaders and economic development groups, and focusing lobbying efforts at the federal and state level.

GSI persuaded area leaders to work together and present their projects to the chamber first. GSI then assigned priorities to the projects and developed a common strategy for approaching state officials with those requests.

Hadley also initiated an annual “fly-in” to Washington, D.C., by a group of area officials, business leaders and educators. He made sure the group included North Idaho members to help focus on initiatives helpful to the entire region.

Talking to The Spokesman-Review in 2013, Hadley said GSI was the only group of its kind in the Northwest to have full-time paid lobbyists both in Olympia and in Washington, D.C.

Tom Johnson, former STCU president and CEO who retired in 2017, served on the GSI board. He and Hadley became friends and later, in retirement, enjoyed summer afternoon rounds of golf.

“Rich was just a great leader,” Johnson said. “He was a real champion for Spokane in everything that he did. His three big projects over the last many years were the University District development that included the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine and then separately the Fairchild Air Force Base.”

Johnson said Hadley’s third goal was to see the North Spokane Corridor built.

“No one really had the leadership skills to pull the right people together to have the right conversations to move that forward, but Rich did, and so he was able to – along with a lot of other people in Spokane – to secure the funding through the Legislature to get the project started, and of course it’s still ongoing,” Johnson added.

“All three of his goals are in different stages of moving forward, but all are moving forward.”

Hadley was known for mentoring and helping people grow in their roles at GSI, Johnson said.

“There were a lot of people over the years who spent time working for GSI and for Rich and then moved on to other areas, so the community is sprinkled with folks who had the benefit of working with him. Rich served as a mentor, a friend and colleague.”

David Condon, Spokane mayor from 2012 to 2020, also spent many years working with Hadley, including while he worked in McMorris Rodgers’ office in 2005-11.

“You can quickly go to dozens of projects and initiatives Rich was part of that are so important; the medical school is probably pre-eminent in most people’s minds to make that happen,” Condon said.

Condon credits Hadley’s strengths that helped move projects forward.

“Rich was one of those rare individuals who had a vision but he also could build strategy that was inclusive across the community and then he could execute that strategy,” Condon said. “Often, you don’t find those three abilities in a single individual.”

Jack Heath, Washington Trust Bank president and CEO, said Hadley was a master at advocating for the needs of the community, whether at the local, state or federal levels.

“When you think of Rich Hadley, you think of someone who really convened people together in the community, who literally loved Spokane and this region,” Heath said. “He was someone who could do a great job articulating not only what GSI was advocating for but also linking in all the key constituents in the community.”

“If you look at the stamp he has left in the community, he has helped create a special place that just blossomed under his leadership.”

Hadley is survived by his wife, Rita, one son and one daughter.