Grady College remembers Spencer Tinkham

Grady College remembers Spencer Tinkham

July 05, 2023

Dr. Spencer F. Tinkham, admired for his affable nature, prolific research and dedication to students, died June 29, 2023. He was 79 years old.

Tinkham served as a professor of advertising at Grady College for 37 years before retiring in 2018.

“Spencer Tinkham was a consummate gentleman and a tireless, diligent scholar,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “I’m immensely thankful our time at Grady overlapped a bit, for I had long admired him. Everyone who knew him admired him.”

Headshot of Spencer Tinkham in early 1980s.
Spencer Tinkham, ca. mid-1980s. (Photo: Grady College Archives)

Tom Russell, dean of Grady College from 1983 to 2000 during much of Tinkham’s tenure, agreed.

“I remember Spencer as a faculty member who was always ready to help graduate students and faculty alike with their research problems.  He was truly an anchor of the Grady graduate program throughout his tenure.  We were most fortunate to have him as a faculty colleague and, more importantly, as a friend.  He will be missed by the many who benefited from his wise counsel.”

Over the years, Tinkham taught undergraduate courses in advertising research methods, management and campaigns. He also taught graduate-level courses in advanced communication research and quantitative data analysis, and was actively involved with the American Academy of Advertising.

Karen King, professor emerita, had a long history with Tinkham going back to 1977 when he was her Ad Campaigns professor at University of Illinois.  They were also colleagues at Grady College and the American Academy of Advertising.

“Spencer was a prolific advertising scholar and a main-stay at the annual American Academy of Advertising meetings with a number of top research article awards,” King said. “He helped train several generations of advertising scholars and was on almost every doctoral dissertation committee for advertising students at Grady. He was a particularly gifted teacher of graduate students as he had a unique way of breaking down and explaining complex statistical analysis for which legions of grad students and colleagues were grateful.”

Spencer served as faculty advisor for Tom Landrum (MA ’87), vice president emeritus for Development and Alumni Relations at the University of Georgia, when Landrum was earning his master’s degree.

“I simply would not have made it without his help,” Landrum said. “He encouraged and motivated me as I labored on my thesis. Together, we made a deep dive into the statistical relevance of the data I collected and he was there for support all through the process.”

Landrum recalled his thesis defense and the help Tinkham provided.

“Over the years, I have come to appreciate just how much I learned from Professor Tinkham and how grateful I am that he was chair of my reading committee. I know I’m not the only student he encouraged and mentored. Grady College was fortunate to have him.”

Tinkham served as the dissertation chair for Hye Jin Yoon (MA’ 06, PhD ’10) when she was getting her doctorate degree at Grady College in the early

Spencer Tinkam helps with Hye Jin Yoon’s hooding ceremony as she graduates with her doctoral degree in 2010. (Courtesy of Hye Jin Yoon)

2000s. Yoon, who is an associate professor at Grady College, remembers how friendly and kind he was, especially to Ph.D. students.

“His presence was always calming and soothing during our most anxiety-ridden years,” Yoon said. “Any conversation with him, short or long, was always intellectually invigorating. As a current Grady professor, I owe him, along with all my great Grady professors, my career and success. We will always  cherish him in our hearts and minds.”

According to King, Tinkham was also an accomplished pianist and singer who appeared with the men’s University of North Carolina choir on “The Ed Sullivan Show” back in his college days. He used to joke that when he retired from Grady, he was going to write country western songs.

“I believe that he will be most remembered by his friends, colleagues, and former students for the seemingly endless supply of grace and the kindness he shared with all of us,” King said.

Prior to joining the faculty of Grady College, Tinkham taught in the Marketing Department of Columbia University Graduate School of Business, at the University of Illinois and as a visiting professor at the University of Florida. His research on political communication, especially message and audience factors in persuasion, earned him national attention including a ranking in the top 25 academic advertising researchers in the Journal of Advertising.

Upon being named the Teacher of the Year for the Department of Advertising and Public Relations in 2007, the late Ron Lane said of Tinkham, “He spends countless hours in his second office, Conference Room 203, mentoring graduate students. On a daily basis, undergraduate and graduate students are lined up outside his office for that personal attention he is so famous for.”

Tinkham earned his doctorate degree in communications and his master’s in advertising from the University of Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of North Carolina.

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