Spokane Journal of Business

Remembering Greater Spokane’s Rich Hadley

Former GSI executive known for pursuing community prosperity, cultivating next leaders

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People who knew and worked with Rich Hadley saw him as a visionary who had his hands on some of the biggest recent and ongoing community and economic developments for the Spokane area.

He also is known for mentoring up-and-coming leaders to help carry those initiatives forward.

Hadley, 76, died March 19 after being diagnosed a few months earlier with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was the former longtime president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated and a champion of the University District, the region’s medical schools, downtown Spokane development, Fairchild Air Force Base, and the North Spokane Corridor.

Hadley retired from GSI in 2014, having been hired 21 years earlier to lead Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce. He later led the transition of that organization in 2007 into GSI, which took on the additional role of Spokane’s economic development agency.

Susan Ashe, recently retired executive director of the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane, was on the board of the Spokane chamber when it hired Hadley.

“My first impression was that he was very articulate and a great listener,” Ashe says. “He also had a great sense of humor and appeared to be a visionary.”

Ashe, who was then Northwest public affairs manager for Kaiser Aluminum Corp., says she worked closely with Hadley during her terms on the chamber board, including on many trips he led with community representatives to the state and federal capitals, advocating for Spokane.

“Any successful community needs great leaders, and Rich was one of them,” she says. “Spokane was very fortunate.”

Ashe says Hadley often demonstrated his love for Rita, his wife of 52 years, and their son and daughter.

“He loved to share their accomplishments and achievements,” she says.

Alisha Benson, current CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, says Hadley played a huge role in her career, beginning in 2008, when he hired her to join GSI’s professional services team.

“He encouraged me to pursue this work in community and economic development,” she says.

Hadley was an integral part of the University District and the steward of the vision for the launch of the new Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the growth of the University of Washington-Gonzaga University Health Partnership, both in Spokane, Benson says.

“That work started before my time, but I’ve been able to be part of it coming to life,” she says. “So many of us are in a position to continue working to bring his vision forward.”

She says Hadley inspired people to do work that changes communities and creates economic prosperity.

“It’s why I do this kind of work,” she adds.

Benson says Hadley kept in touch with her after he retired, and her family and his formed close friendships.

“He was always just a phone call or text message away with encouragement or wisdom,” she says.

Kris Johnson, president and CEO of Olympia, Washington-based Association of Washington Business, who started his career working under Hadley at the Spokane chamber in the mid-1990s, says, “I don’t think anyone could ask for better mentor. He had a unique ability to spot talent before people saw it in themselves.”

Hadley was known for certain phrases that Johnson calls “Rich-isms.” One was “prime the pump.”

“He said, ‘Imagine if we could get the WSU pharmacy school to move here? That might prime the pump to help us get a medical school,’” Johnson says. “He understood what you needed to do next to get to the end goal.”

Johnson notes that Hadley also was a strong advocate for the $1.49 billion North Spokane Corridor freeway project that will be under construction for several more years.

Even though Johnson recruited Hadley to help create AWB’s Grassroots Alliance barely two months after he retired from GSI, Johnson claims he never really stopped working for Hadley.

“On his very first day working for us, he called me and said, ‘Hey boss, what do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘Hey boss, what do you need me to do?’”

Hadley saw the initiative to forge closer ties with chambers of commerce and economic development councils grow in membership to over 100 chambers statewide.

Johnson says Hadley typically would start a conversation by asking about family.

“He believed that a work-life balance was important to be successful,” Johnson says.

Regarding the scope of Hadley’s legacy, Johnson adds, “His grandchildren will have a chance to see their grandfather’s work … for their entire lives.”

Among his recognitions, Hadley was named a Journal of Business Inland Northwest Business Icon in 2021 and was honored by the Spokane Citizen Hall of Fame in 2017.

Greg Bever, retired publisher of the Journal, says he worked with Hadley on economic development projects over many years.

“I was blessed to have him as a mentor and a real advocate for Spokane,” Bever says. “I always found Rich to be a visionary. He knew where he wanted to take GSI and what projects he wanted to work on.”

He says Hadley sought to find the best, doable projects and wasn’t afraid to take on something as big as the new WSU medical school.

Hadley, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, also was determined to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from the threat of closure, Bever says. Hadley led the formation of GSI’s Fairchild Forward committee to demonstrate community support for the base.

“He really admired the workings of Fairchild and wanted to protect the base at all costs—protect it and grow it,” Bever says.

Marty Dickinson, chief marketing officer at Liberty Lake-based STCU, says Hadley changed the course of her career. She says he recruited her in 2001 to join his team at the chamber of commerce, putting her on a path of leadership in the community, starting with becoming president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, in 2005.

“Rich instilled in so many of us the value of leadership and stewardship and responsibility to pass it along and create succession for leadership in a community,” she says.

Dickinson says Hadley was relentless in pursuit of community needs and goals. “If we had hill to climb, nine times out of 10, he was leading the charge,” she says.

Hadley met with Dickinson after she was reelected last year as chair of the WSU Board of Regents.

“It put a big smile on his face,” she says. “He was gracious and proud knowing he shaped a lot of future leaders for our region and state.”

She hopes that Hadley’s legacy will inspire “selfless and servant leadership” among community leaders who follow. 

“It’s a wakeup call for the community to look back on leaders like Rich Hadley and what they did and how they did it and how we’re going to pick up the baton and carry it forward,” Dickinson says.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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