Family and friends, all of us, drank a hearty milkshake toast in honor of the late Dick Spady following a recent memorial service at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church. Dick, the namesake of Dick’s Drive-In Restaurants died in January at 92, last surviving co-founder of the iconic 62-year-old chain.
The service, warm, touching and at times humorous, said a lot about the man. He was the eternal optimist, a hard-working entrepreneur whose philosophy in business was to keep customers happy, while making money and supporting his employees. He was a man of faith, a staunch Methodist and a passionate apostle for civic empowerment.
As we learned at the service, Dick served in the Navy during World War II as part of a Seabee Construction Battalion. After the war, he used the GI Bill to attend college at Oregon State University. Called back into service during the Korean War, he was stationed in Southern Japan and was tasked with feeding thousands of active duty troops.
Experience with construction and service in two wars led to his joining two partners, Tom Thomas and H. Warren Ghormley. They opened the first Dick’s Drive-In on Jan. 28, 1954 in Wallingford. Shortly after, he met Ina Lou Arnold, a Naval officer from Georgia, during a church retreat. They married 1955. They moved from their first home, a Lake Union houseboat, to Capitol Hill and finally to Bellevue.
Over the years, Spady opened six other drive-ins: Capitol Hill, Holman Road, Lake City, Queen Anne and finally Edmonds. All of them had the same keep-it-simple formula: burgers, hand-cut fries and creamy shakes. It was always a cash-only operation and, except for Queen Anne, all remain drive-ins. It’s true the original 19-cent burger from the 50s sells for more today, but the Deluxe, the most expensive with lettuce and cheese, is still only $3.10; ketchup 5 cents extra.
It’s difficult to overstate the fondness Seattle has for its iconic drive-ins. Couples have married there; class reunions held there, and it still draws ex-pats back from across the miles. It’s no wonder that Macklemore added to its lustre on one of his signature albums.
From the beginning, Spady offered his employees the highest pay in the industry, well above the minimum, while providing 100 percent health-insurance coverage even for part timers and helping employees attend college. He also gave generously and often to support homeless, disaster and community causes.
Spady was a long-time member of the World Future Society and, to advance those ideals, he founded the Forum Foundation. His foundation offers an enlightened approach to leadership. His was a vision of citizen involvement in government based on a network of forums. He believed in the right of people to be heard.
A testament to his life’s work as an enlightened entrepreneur and a believer in community engagement was given by four guest speakers at the memorial, including the Rev. Patricia Simpson, pastor of University Temple United Methodist Church, and Michael Cate, representing his late father Dr. William B. Cate, remembered for his leadership heading the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
After the ceremony concluded to the strains “Amazing Grace,” a haunting bagpipe solo by his son Walt Spady, and mournful rendition of “Taps,” guests gathered in the library to share memories of Dick Spady. En route, I found myself walking with former Mayor Wes Uhlman, who said he’d known Dick “for a least 40 years” – they’d worked together as members of the Woodland Park United Methodist Church, known for its early celebration of same-sex marriages.
My own memories also stretched into the past. I learned to know Dick Spady through my late husband, Bob Godden, a commercial artist who helped create Dick’s logos in the1950s. It is Bob’s drawing of the drive-in surrounded by vintage cars (ours is in the middle) that still illustrates each of Dick’s burger bags. I knew Dick, too, during my years as a Seattle City Councilmember, I had his backing, although the last time I asked, he demurred saying he was devoting his energies to the Forum.
Seattle will miss Dick Spady but, happily, not his drive-ins, which are now owned and managed by the Spady family with the same philosophy of keeping things simple, keeping customers happy and employees valued. As a Seattle institution, Dick’s ranks up there, along with the Space Needle, Richard Beyer’s Waiting for the Interurban and the Pike Place Market clock.