Story by Clint Kelly|
Photos by Jimi Lott
of a Man
"Bob chaired the committee investigating the feasibility of a third runway at SeaTac...
The Washington State Convention Center has generated crowds, visibility and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the City of Seattle. "It wouldn't have
happened if no one had worked on it," says Alumnus of the Year Robert Wallace, who was a member of the
board of directors of the Washington State Conference and Trade Center Corporation. "It's a
In this image-conscious world, at least three sharp snapshots emerge whenever Bob Wallace's name is mentioned among those who know him well.
The first is of a neat, fit and focused man -- impeccable in a well-tailored suit -- who thinks that a successful real estate investor owes more to Providence than to brilliance.
The second mental picture, one provided by his wife, is that of a man splattered in mud returning from a long run with his much-adored Brittany spaniel. Man and dog are grinning ear-to-ear.
To those who know him more by his public stance, a third image surfaces: a family-oriented, admittedly opinionated, conservative newspaper columnist who often relishes a certain political incorrectness.
Merge these three views of Robert C. Wallace -- savvy businessman, fulfilled family man, outspoken communicator -- and you have Seattle Pacific University's 1999 Alumnus of the Year. In the 30 years since graduation, Wallace evolved rapidly from an erstwhile x-ray technician to a confident regional player whose influence is felt from studio apartments to the downtown corporate offices of billion-dollar companies.
"As Christians, we are to use our resources to try to make things better," proffers Wallace by way of explaining the path he's taken. "The seeds for giving back to the community and for a lifelong commitment to Christ and the church were planted by my mother and father and refined at Seattle Pacific."
The one-time Hill Hall resident admits that right out of high school, "I was more interested in girls than grades, and devoted more after-school time to making money than memories." A two-year stint in the Army and marriage to the SPC alumna Joan Russell stiffened his resolve and by the time he returned to college for the final two years, "I was a lot more focused on the goal than the game."
Strangely enough, it was a freshman aptitude test that most accurately predicted his future in real estate. But Wallace laughed it off and made ready to follow in his father's footsteps to medical school. He counts it fortunate, however, "that college chemistry and the military intervened."
In his early days as a young alum with an economics degree, Wallace consulted for medical groups and dabbled in real estate investment. His first foray into real estate came when he co-developed Bellevue North Shopping Center on the growing east side of the Seattle metropolitan area. The past chair of both the Bellevue and Seattle Chambers of Commerce has since compiled an impressive portfolio of real estate projects.
Wallace's civic conscience has kept pace with his commercial acquisitions. Hundreds of thousands of area residents have been impacted by his strong advocacy of some of the region's biggest municipal projects including the Kingdome; the Washington State Convention Center; and Safeco Field, new home of the Seattle Mariners. He has been a member of the steering board of each.
"I'm mechanically challenged," muses the managing partner for Wallace Properties Group. "I can't cook, tutor children or do a thousand things at which others are gifted. But I sort of understand things like construction, municipal finance, politics, building management..."
He has indeed found his niche. "The highest form of social service in my mind is producing jobs," says Wallace, who was last spring chosen Bellevue's Citizen of the Year. "The Convention Center was very controversial, politically contentious and complex. But a tremendous cash cow (and employer) was ultimately born."
He is no less enthused by the chairmanship of the building committee at First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue, where he serves as an elder. Or by his ten years on the SPU Board of Trustees, where he chaired the facilities committee that coordinated the building of the SPU Library. Or by his wife, Joan, who runs their brokerage company, Wallace Properties Inc.; chairs the board of trustees at Overlake Medical Center; and recently became a trustee of SPU. The Wallaces have two children: a son who is an attorney in Seattle and a daughter who is a graduate student in Wisconsin.
"Seattle Pacific taught me a healthy respect for what we used to call the Puritan Ethic," Wallace notes, "the notion that work is honorable, pleasing to God, a given, and that if executed properly and diligently, rewards will result."
He learned, too, the fine art of communication from his professors. Even peppery oratory. And the value of using position and passion to press for change. "It would be foolish to squander those opportunities to help causes that I feel are good and to criticize those causes which strike me as bad," says Wallace, a biweekly columnist for the Eastside Journal. "I don't apologize for that. Christ wasn't as limp-wristed as many think... Someone needs to call a spade a spade."
Someone who backs up his or her words with deep community involvement is a prime candidate for SPU's Alumnus of the Year. "We seek to graduate people of both competence and character, people who place the needs of the community above their own," says Seattle Pacific President Philip Eaton. "Bob is both a leader and a servant. We are proud to claim him as one of our graduates."
Tough and pragmatic, yet humorous, approachable and unmoved by who gets the credit. Hard as it is to package all of that in one man, that's the Wallace who captured the attention of the alumni selection committee when it came time to choose someone who exemplifies the mission of the University. "Bob doesn't have to do all he does beyond the office," says Alumni Director Doug Taylor. "But he feels compelled as a believer in Christ to give his best to the community. SPU was very impressed by that commitment."
"This is an award the school gave my father in 1968 and that makes it especially meaningful to me," says Wallace the younger. "It's also humbling because of its implications. This institution has some pretty lofty ideals, much better exemplified by Dad than by me." The late M. Marvin Wallace '38, for whom Wallace Field adjacent to Brougham Pavilion was named, was a trustee of SPC for 21 years. Robert and his dad, a radiologist, are Seattle Pacific's only father-son Alumni of the Year.
Uncannily, what was said of his father when he retired from the Board three decades ago could easily be said of the son today: "You have achieved success, maintained standards of excellence, and earned respect in your profession. In honor of you today, we recognize the distinction your professional service has brought to the University."
Where the Wallaces are concerned, it's like father, like son.