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Putting an Education to Work

Donor Lottie Wade, MSW '75, has tackled some of society's toughest problems

Lottie Wade
“Professors Jack Kirkland, Fred Smith, and David Katz taught me how to listen, value, separate the person from the issue, mediate, and find common ground. It was a big step for the introverted daughter of rural Mississippi tenant farmers.”

Attention to detail is all there is.

“I had that message on a plaque in my office for years,” says Lottie Wade, MSW ’75. “I would get caught up in the big picture of things and needed that reminder to focus on getting the details right.”

Throughout her career, Wade has taken that adage to heart and into communities, where she has put her education and experiences to work to address some of society’s toughest problems.

When Wade enrolled at Washington University to pursue a master’s degree in social work, she brought with her a decade of experience at the Missouri Division of Family Services. 

“My days with Family Services were heavy,” says Wade, who served residents in St. Louis low-income public housing. “The Brown School provided a much-needed break and expanded my world exponentially.

“Professors Jack Kirkland, Fred Smith, and David Katz took me under their wing,” Wade continues. “They taught me how to listen, value, separate the person from the issue, mediate, see both sides, and find common ground.  It was a big step for the introverted daughter of rural Mississippi tenant farmers.”

Great expectations

Despite growing up in the Jim Crow era, Wade says she had much to be thankful for. “I was raised in a stable, intact family with parents who wanted their children to be educated. They had expectations,” Wade says. “My dad was called ‘Mr. Robert’ because he was respected as a strong and reliable member of our community. He carried a lot on his shoulders, and people would come to him for help and advice.”

Wade found inspiration and guidance from mentors at critical points in her life. An elementary teacher praised her intelligence and gave her confidence. A high school teacher encouraged her to apply to Alcorn State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. After moving to St. Louis, at 22, to “look after a younger brother,” she joined the Missouri Division of Family Services, where colleagues provided support. 

A co-worker urged her to pursue a master’s degree in social work to help advance her career.  And later, a colleague and fellow Brown School graduate, Bill Siedhoff, BS ’68MSW ’73, became a mentor and trusted friend.   

Creating change

After graduation, Wade returned to the Division of Family Services and new positions in training and staff development.  Her Washington University education expanded her abilities to lead social change in new and exciting ways.  

As the first African-American area director for St. Louis City and County, she oversaw child welfare and public assistance programs. “I felt directly responsible for the lives of the children,” she says. “What tugged at my heart most were the kids needing foster care.”  She also began to travel and engage in legislative work.  

In 1989, she joined the United Way of Greater St. Louis, where she served as vice president of human resources and later as senior vice president of community building, a fast-growing arm of the agency. The details and the big picture converged. 

“I felt prepared,” Wade says of her move. “My experiences and education allowed me to create change on many levels.”

Wade is most proud of initiating a task force that became the Adoption and Foster Care Coalition of Missouri. She also helped launch the United Way 2-1-1 program, which links people with needs—from employment and housing to childcare and senior sevices—directly to the resources that will help them. “We were part of the movement toward outcomes measurement, now a major field in social work research and practice,” she says.

“We can do more”

Wade has supported the Brown School for 30 years. “The school has played a significant role in my life,” she says. “I have made many connections that I value to this day. And seeing the impact of my work has been rewarding.”

Over the years, Wade also has served as a role model and practicum supervisor for many Brown School students. In 2002, the school honored her with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Now retired, Wade is a tireless volunteer who continues to share her time and expertise with Brown School students and others in the St. Louis area. She and her husband are residents of Spanish Lake, where she has been instrumental in helping to bridge economic and cultural barriers.

“So many communities have unmet needs, and we all can do more to help,” Wade says. “Every person who has the opportunity should give something back.”

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