Robert R. Sprague dies at 92; former S&L industry leader, philanthropist
By By Dennis McLellan
Jun 11, 2009 | 12:00 AM
Robert R. Sprague, a former Los Angeles-based leader of the savings and loan industry and a philanthropist who was a major donor to UC Irvine, has died. He was 92.
Sprague died of cancer June 2 at his home in Corona del Mar, said his daughter, Lois M. Sprague.
A second-generation native of Los Angeles, Sprague and a partner built housing tracts in Hawthorne, Inglewood, Torrance and Whittier in the early 1940s before Sprague founded and became president of the Los Angeles-based Pioneer Savings and Loan Assn. in 1943.
"He was very involved with working with people to make sure they could afford their homes," his daughter said. "When they came in for a loan, he'd literally sit down and talk to them about budgeting. And he talked people into postponing getting a loan for a number of months until they could save up enough to make a large enough down payment to keep their monthly payments affordable."
Pioneer Savings and Loan Assn., which was headquartered on Wilshire Boulevard, had branches throughout Southern California.
Sprague also was a director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco and served as president of the United States Savings and Loan League.
After Pioneer Savings and Loan Assn. was acquired by Gibraltar Savings and Loan Assn. in the 1970s, Sprague retired and worked as a private investor and financial consultant.
"He continued to manage his investments and counsel people until the last weeks of his life," his daughter said.
As a philanthropist, Sprague was a major donor to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Good Samaritan Hospital, Pomona College and the Opera Guild, among others.
After Sprague's wife, Jean, died of lung cancer in 1980, he turned his attention to Orange County, where the longtime Hancock Park residents had built a second home in Corona del Mar.
Sprague married his second wife, Margaret "Peggie," in 1984, and the couple supported numerous Orange County organizations, including the Orange County Museum of Art, Children's Hospital of Orange County, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Most of the couple's donations to UC Irvine have supported healthcare programs, including $5 million to help build Robert R. Sprague Hall, a facility for studying genetic causes of cancer, in the Irvine Biomedical Research Center on campus.
In 1998, the Spragues were awarded the UCI Medal, the university's highest honor. And in 2008 they received Orange County's Spirit of Philanthropy Lifetime Achievement Award, which is sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Assn. of Fundraising Professionals.
"A university can only become world-class with the help of world-class people," UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake said in a statement. "Bob Sprague is one of those people. He dedicated his life to improving all of our lives by supporting causes such as finding a cure for cancer."
Sprague was born in Los Angeles on July 11, 1916. His surgeon father, Dr. Norman F. Sprague, served as a University of California regent in the 1930s and '40s.
Sprague and his wife Jean raised four children: Robert Jr., William, Jeanie and Lois. Robert Jr. and Jeanie predeceased Sprague.
In addition to his wife Peggie and two children, he is survived by two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren; a stepson, Jeff Cole, and Cole's three children.
A celebration of Sprague's life will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach.
Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Robert R. Sprague Women's Cancer Center at UC Irvine. To make a donation, call (866) 968-4824 or go to the UC Irvine memorial website at www.sympathytree.com /BobSpragueUCI-Tribute.