Tom Fritz, former CEO of Inland Northwest Health Services, died Monday while fishing on Lake Coeur d’Alene, just six months after he retired from the organization he led for 16 years.
His death shocked and saddened the Spokane business community.
“It’s just tragic,” said Rich Hadley, former president and CEO of Greater Spokane Inc., who worked closely with Fritz for years.
“He was such a great leader and a nice guy,” Hadley said. “He had a heart of gold.”
Kootenai County Sheriffs deputies found Fritz, 63, after two people saw his unoccupied fishing boat going around in circles at the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene just after 1 p.m. Monday and towed it to Mowry State Park. His body was found tangled in downrigger lines about 35 feet under the surface, the sheriff’s office said.
Fritz’s friends said he owned two homes on Coeur d’Alene Lake and fished there often.
At least, “He said he was fishing, but none of us ever saw him catch a fish,” said former Journal of Business publisher Greg Bever, laughing at the memory.
Bever said Fritz’s death is a loss to his family — a wife, adult son and his mother — but also to the community.
“He did so many things for us. He created so many jobs. He was a part of our institution,” he said.
Fritz built INHS to an organization with 1,000 employees and gross revenues of more than $200 million. The Spokane nonprofit runs Northwest Medstar air ambulance service, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute and an electronic medical records business with clinic and hospital clients around the country. During that time he also navigated tensions between the competing hospital owners, including a lawsuit filed against the for-profit company that bought Deaconess Medical Center’s parent company.
Before joining INHS, Fritz was superintendent of Eastern State Hospital. He also was a state-licensed family and marriage therapist.
He was active in many civic organizations, including serving as chairman of the board for Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council and Spokane Workforce Development Council. He was slated to serve as chairman of the statewide Association of Washington Business next year.
That statewide role “gives you a sense of magnitude of his influence,” said Gary Livingston, an INHS board member and former chancellor at Community Colleges of Spokane.
Harry Sladich, executive vice president of Red Lion Hotels, said Fritz was an ally when Sladich headed the Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“He was one of those guys that helped me get things through that I thought were best for the community, everything from U.S. Figure Skating to funding for the marketing of the community. He was always a strong ally of mine, then became a good friend.”
Said Sladich, “He was an advocate through and through and a friend through and through. You just know, no matter what — you make the call and he’s there.”
Fritz rooted for regional sports teams, golfed, liked to travel and appreciated a steak and a glass of wine, his friends said. He was a silent partner in Churchill’s Steakhouse in Spokane.
“He was one of the original guys who saw the need for a great steakhouse in Spokane,” said Tony Higley, executive director of the community colleges’ CCS Foundation.
Most of all, he liked people. He knew many of INHS employees by name.
“He was a very charismatic leader,” said Bever. “He related to people.”
Elaine Couture, regional CEO of Providence Health Care, said in a statement, “Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Mike Schwenk, chairman of the board for the Association of Washington Business, called Fritz “a class act. You always knew where he stood on any issue, and where you stood with him.”
Added Schwenk in the AWB statement, “He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, and even those who never met him will miss his contributions to our state.”
Services haven’t been announced.
Lt. Stu Miller of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said the investigation into Fritz’s death is ongoing and that an autopsy would be performed in Spokane.
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