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Features  |   October 01, 2003
Goodbye, Fred
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Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   October 01, 2003
Goodbye, Fred
The ASHA Leader, October 2003, Vol. 8, 4-6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.08182003.4
The ASHA Leader, October 2003, Vol. 8, 4-6. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.08182003.4
Frederick T. Spahr, ASHA’s executive director since 1980, is retiring Dec. 31.
Fred (BA, Indiana University-Bloomington; ME, Boston University; PhD, University of Southern California) actually began his “apprenticeship” at the National Office 10 years earlier. From 1970—when he became associate secretary for professional affairs—until he actually took over as executive director, Fred did just about everything. He served as director of the research and professional development department, director of the administrative department, and deputy executive director. Even after 1980—from 1980 to 1994—he was editor of Asha magazine.
Fred is an ASHA Fellow, an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, and an active member of the association management community. Fred served as chair of the Board of Directors of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives and is a recipient of that group’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Association Executives and received its Key Award. These awards are the highest honors available in the world of association management.
Among Fred’s many talents is eloquence. Which is a lucky thing, since he has a lot to tell. So we’ll let him speak for himself.
It’s been a long journey, Fred, to reach this point where you begin the next journey. During almost 25 years in the executive office—and 35 years of association with ASHA—you’ve witnessed some big changes in the field of communication sciences and disorders. How would you characterize the difference—in a global way—between where the professions were in 1970 and where they are today?
Let me begin with what has remained constant—that is, the maintenance of our science base. That’s how a profession is defined—by its own body of knowledge. We’ve worked hard to preserve and expand our science base while working equally hard to meet the needs of the large body of audiologists and speech-language pathologists who are using the knowledge developed by our researchers.
In terms of what has changed—what I’ve seen for both professions is their ability to adapt creatively to the needs of society. In audiology, for example, there’s been the development of programmable hearing aids and certain kinds of testing such as otoacoustic emissions and typanometry. And the development of cochlear implants and services needed for people who have received cochlear implants, for another example, attests to the education and training of both audiologists and speech-language pathologists. They have the knowledge to provide such services.
There have been big changes also in speech-language pathology in the schools. When I first began at ASHA almost 90% of the caseloads of school-based clinicians were made up of children with articulation disorders. Today 90% of their caseloads are children with language-based disorders. This change is owing to the foresight of leaders in the late 1970s and early 1980s who recognized that the education and training of speech pathologists (as they were known then) would allow us to deal with issues related to language and language training in children. And today this training has allowed clinicians to enter the important area of literacy.
During this period of the late ’70s and early ’80s there was also great emphasis on learning disabilities, particularly in the schools, and there was research to suggest that many of these disabilities were language-based. This was the time, incidentally, when the American Speech and Hearing Association added “language” to its name. Language was put in the middle, between speech and hearing, to suggest that language relates to both.
In addition to these examples, I can cite two other major breakthroughs in the professions: the area of dysphagia—when I started at ASHA, there were two or three articles on the subject and now 90% of the caseloads of hospital-based clinicians deal with swallowing and swallowing disorders—and alternative and augmentative communication—this component of our discipline really took off with the advent of computers and electronic devices.
What do you see as the greatest challenges on the horizon for professionals?
The challenge that continues to face the profession of speech-language pathology—and this is a major distinction with audiology—is the amount of training and education required to provide services to children and adults—particularly children. We find, for example, in the schools, that after 40 years we are still having to battle the issue of bachelors versus master’s as the terminal degree. In audiology there’s been a great deal more uniformity with the master’s and now the AuD or doctorate.
It’s also a continuing challenge to portray to the public that the services speech-language pathologists provide are worthwhile. Now, you talk with any parent whose child has received quality service and typically you’ll find that intervention had made a big difference in the life of the child well beyond the ability to speak—their whole academic success is affected as well as their self-confidence. But how we get that success across to the administrators in schools, in health care arenas—indeed, that continues to be a problem.
Let’s move backward for a moment—you spent two years as an academic before you began your career as an ASHA leader. What led you to leave academe and enter executive life?
I came here following an opportunity that I believed would knock only once. I felt there would be many academic positions available in the future, but very few jobs open in the ASHA National Office in administration. I thought, “why don’t I try it?” I very quickly realized I enjoyed association management. I began to take courses in budget and finance, in marketing, in public relations, in communications. I’m a Certified Association Executive (certified by the American Society of Association Executives).
Administrators when I began—as well as now, probably—are not looked upon as being on the top rung of the ladder of the professions—in fact one of my colleagues at the time I was considering administration pulled me aside and asked, “why would you want to go into administration?” as if I couldn’t make a worse decision. But he was very wrong—I’ve loved it.
Really? You’ve never regretted the decision?
Never. I’ve continued to be delighted with my position at ASHA. I have a wonderful job. We have an outstanding staff and outstanding volunteer leaders, all of whom are competent and caring individuals.
I must say that in my 24 years at ASHA I have received only two abusive calls—and these were from nonmembers. Certainly, there have been calls from members who were angry—but they were always respectful.
Just as there have been great changes in the professions over the last 34 years, the National Office also looks very different from how it did in 1970. It’s certainly grown, in terms of staff and just plain physical infrastructure, but is it different also in other, less quantifiable ways?
We stayed with the same organizational structure for a lot of years and then about six or seven years ago I realized that just making small changes within the same structure and expecting different results didn’t make sense. I thought that something more systemic needed to occur. So I looked at the culture of the office. That was a correct direction. I looked at the values to which the office should aspire. I felt that following established procedures is an important component of doing one’s work and outcome is also an important ingredient, but how one goes about doing one’s work is equally important. It was an “ah ha!” moment for me when I realized you can have good outcome and a competent person and still enjoy working with that individual. Nobody has to accept behavior that is out of line just because someone brings in dollars for the Association. You can have your cake and eat it too.
You’re suggesting a certain philosophy of leadership. What is it?
I do have a philosophy of leadership, but it’s not my own. I’ll paraphrase my colleague Joel Stark: “No one is as good as all of us.” For me, “all of us” mean inclusion—inclusion of all individuals with all their attributes, regardless of where they are in the office structure. This belief also embodies the idea of teamwork and mutual respect and the understanding of individual competencies and how best to use them—we all have something to contribute. I’ve also learned over the years that actually I have no control over others. That realization gave me the most control over me—I discovered that there are many ways to achieve an end and not just my way. Maybe the title of my job is a misnomer—as if I’m really directing anything…Once I knew that—and knew that we could do our best by working together to meet our members’ needs—that was a big change.
Are there particular issues that stand out for you during your years with ASHA?
When I first came to the National Office there was a belief among some that diversity as well as other social issues were not appropriate for consideration by a professional association devoted to communication sciences and disorders. I would agree that other organizations can better resolve the issue of world hunger than ASHA. But does ASHA have a responsibility beyond our members? Yes, we have a responsibility to the community, and to the greater good of society. But we’re best at dealing with human communication sciences and disorders. Issues of diversity are part of our discipline and we have to have a multicultural perspective to do the jobs that we’re asked to do.
Also, during this same period, the role of women in society was also being discussed. I went one time to a program in the early ’70s at the New York State Speech and Hearing Association where Norma Rees, Steffi Resnick, and Jane Madell were talking about early characterizations in children’s lives relating to gender identification. In children’s books, for example, boys would have active roles and girls passive roles. I found it fascinating. I remember coming home and talking to my wife Pat about it. And I remember shortly thereafter watching a show on TV with our children. There was a character who was a physician and I said to my daughter Susan, “One day when you grow up, you might want to become a doctor,” and she said, “Oh no, daddy, boys are doctors and girls are nurses!” And I said, “Oh my Lord!” Learning begins at home.
In the early ’70s both the black caucus and women’s caucus were in existence at ASHA. The black caucus at the time was saying that race and ethnicity and multiculturalism do indeed play an important part in our discipline and that these perspectives need to be considered. They pointed out that we typically appointed people we knew to committees and boards. Whites and males appointed whites and males. And they were right. So, without thinking, we were perpetuating the status quo.
Once we recognized this, we made conscious efforts to increase the number of females and racial and ethnic minorities involved in the leadership of the Association. We’ve also made great progress in diversifying the ASHA staff and the membership—today 73% of our staff are women and 36% are from racial and ethnic minorities. We’ve also instituted a focused initiative on culturally and linguistically diverse populations that will continue into 2004.
For some organizations, the emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity is seen as an altruistic goal. I see it as good business and standard operating procedure given the diversity of the world in which we live and work.
Now, finally—you’re not the retiring type. Why are you retiring? What’s next?
I’ve been involved for some time with a group called AIM (Action in Montgomery), an organization made up of 25 synagogues, parishes and congregations in Montgomery County, MD. We serve as the voice for the voiceless. Through grassroots efforts we determine what the major issues are such as affordable housing, senior transportation, all-day kindergarten, and mental health services. I’ve been involved in the latter for AIM working on how to increase mental health services both in the county and the state. I hope to increase my efforts when I retire. I’m also involved with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).
I want to work as well with adult literacy, perhaps as a tutor, and maybe become even more involved with the Montgomery County Literacy Council.
Generally, in my retirement I’m hoping to have a full-time job as a volunteer, but my pace will be more leisurely—I intend to make time to read the paper with a cup of coffee.
I’ve always looked forward to coming to work every day and I’ll look forward to my volunteer activities. I’ll also have more time to spend with my children and grandchildren. My daughter-in-law is already looking forward to putting me to work trimming bushes and mulching and pruning. I’ll enjoy that—I find outdoor activities therapeutic.
Anything else?
For me, this job has been such a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn. I’ve truly been blessed.
Additional Information About Fred
Our Man for All Seasons

As a fledgling Legislative Councilor from Connecticut in 1973, I quickly realized that a key National Office resource was the Deputy Director Fred Spahr. Next to Luella Cannon, Fred was the staff member who always had the answers related to ASHA policies, practices, and protocols. His willingness to share his information and facilitate the work of ASHA volunteers in ASHA governance was a trait that became one of his hallmarks.

As a member of the ASHA Search Committee for Ken Johnson’s replacement, I saw that Fred’s knowledge of ASHA and his experiences as deputy director clearly placed him far ahead of the other candidates. Over the next two decades, Fred’s performance as ASHA’s executive director validated my confidence in his ability. His exceptional leadership of the Association was recognized not only by ASHA members but association executives nationally.

Fred’s incredible acrobatic ability to balance the needs of ASHA, the National Office staff, and an Executive Board whose membership changed annually required incredible fortitude, leadership, and skills of diplomacy. Fred met the challenge with aplomb and professionalism.

Fred has been a true friend and colleague over three decades. We faced difficult challenges and we worked together to resolve thorny issues. On more than one occasion, I asked Fred to support a view or an issue that was considered controversial by some of our members. His support was unswerving. As ASHA president in 1988, I relied upon Fred to help promote my presidential initiatives of marketing and multiculturalism. I hold Fred in the highest esteem and value his friendship. He has served ASHA well and can take pride in its growth and respected status among related professional associations. Well done, Fred!

—Sandra C. Holley, dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Southern Connecticut State University was ASHA vice president for administration (1983–1986) and ASHA president in 1988.

Serving a “Foundational” Role

It’s a familiar scene. The occasion is a meeting of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation’s Board of Trustees. The setting: ASHA’s Seminar B that doubles as a lunch room for meeting members. We are standing in line to grab one of those nutritional lunch boxes before returning to the Board Room for a working lunch session. Over the collegial conversation, I hear a hearty laugh, followed by a challenge, “Well, when I win that bet on Indiana, you’ll be making a nice donation to our Foundation!” Could that be Fred again, making one of his friendly wagers for a great cause?

While this scene is certainly in my bank of fond memories, I should hasten to say that Fred Spahr’s advocacy and ambassadorship on behalf of the Foundation extends well beyond fun wagers. As ASHA executive director, Fred has served as ex officio on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. He encourages, supports, and actively engages in the business of our philanthropic work, often quietly, but always steadily and with determination. All of us involved with the Foundation have a deep appreciation of Fred’s emotional and financial support. Thank you, Fred, for your stewardship, commitment—and perseverence in soliciting gifts on behalf of the Foundation’s vision.

On a personal note, Fred was a role model who paved the way for my enlightenment and learning. As the years progressed and I moved into a larger leadership role, his insights and perspectives had a defining impact on my decision-making abilities. Thank you, Fred, for your dedication and the inspiration to help us become better leaders.

Fred will long be remembered by our Foundation family for the profound and significant role he has played in the growth of our organization over the years. I’d even wage a bet on that—to benefit the Foundation, of course!

—Nancy J. Minghetti is executive director of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation.

Cool, Calm, and in Control

Over a span of 88 years, she rode the rugged range with Gary Cooper! She defended Spencer Tracy from a blood-seeking-lynch-mob-gone-mad! And she sipped fruit punch with Fred Spahr at a Washington business meeting! Only Fred remained cool, calm, and in control during his encounter with Sylvia Sidney. “Who is Sylvia Sidney?” he later asked....

It was a challenge for anyone to follow Ken Johnson when he resigned in 1980 after 22 years as ASHA’s CEO. Fred was not another Ken Johnson, and some members predicted his service would be short. But the needs of the Association had changed, and Fred’s strengths proved equal to the varied and multiple challenges. Fred became a recognized model for association executives. He was retained as executive director by a generation of ever-changing, always-demanding Executive Board members. How many of us could survive, yet alone thrive, while adjusting to a new boss every year for a quarter of a century?

One of the reasons for Fred’s success has been his ability to adjust to different personalities. He hired and retained people with the needed skills. He provided guidance without interference. He expected, inspired, and rewarded. Varying opinions were welcomed and respected.

…As Sylvia Sidney said in Ladies of the Big House, “You don’t have to agree with me, but show me respect!” Fred always did.

—-Russ Malone, has served as director of the Communications Department, managing editor of Asha magazine, and is the author of The First 75 Years: An Oral History of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (1999).

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October 2003
Volume 8, Issue 18