A numbers guy with a passion for storytelling, a competitive streak and an oversized heart for helping students – Bob Threatt will not be forgotten. The Wingate University assistant professor of accounting passed away Tuesday, days after suffering a stroke while at work.
Having entered academia after a distinguished career in commercial real estate, Threatt excelled in the business of inspiring and equipping students, making sure they not only understood accounting principles but also had opportunities to apply them and to make a difference in their community.
“There are not enough words we can say to show how much we loved him and how much he loved us,” said Christina Hoppers, Threatt’s graduate assistant. “He wanted everything the world had to offer for his students.”
Fellow Master of Accounting (MAC) students Lauren McDuffie of Roxboro and Taylor Morton of Salisbury said the adventure-filled stories Threatt shared in his classes – he taught Principles of Managerial Accounting, Accounting Information Systems, and Auditing to undergrads and Advanced Auditing, Advanced Managerial Accounting, and Accounting Research in the MAC program – kept them engaged and motivated.
“He wasn't just about education. He gave us real-life experience that complemented the topics we were learning,” McDuffie said. “He always had all the time in the world to talk to you.”
“No matter what class you were having trouble in, he would help you and make sure you understood it,” Hoppers said.
Morton said Threatt and his wife, Sarah, who didn’t have biological children, treated his students like their own. He credits the professor with helping him stay in school and find his niche.
“When I did really bad my first semester of college and was on the verge of getting kicked out, I had switched to business management, but I was talking to Mr. Threatt,” he said. “Those accounting classes and conversations we had got me to switch to accounting. I think if it were not for his cool and questionable accounting stories, I wouldn’t be here in the graduate program today.”
Threatt’s colleagues describe him as hardworking and insightful, quick to pick up on students’ talents as he steered them toward the MAC program or prepped them for the CPA exam. Hired as an adjunct professor in 2003, he became part of the full-time faculty in 2007.
“When I had an issue with a student not performing well or not performing up to their potential, Bob would often have insight to share,” said fellow professor Thomas Crawford, who worked alongside Threatt for 11 years. The two teamed up to start the University’s MAC program a decade ago.
“We looked at the curriculum and realized a lot of our students were not going on to grad school,” Crawford said. “We began to explore whether we could deliver a quality master of accounting program, and we realized with the right personnel we could.”
Peter Frank, dean of the Porter Byrum School of Business, said Threatt didn’t hesitate.
“He jumped right in and began developing the auditing and accounting research courses from scratch,” Frank said. “He was integral to the program from day one.” From a start with just five students the first year, MAC has now graduated 89.
One of those graduates is Tom Crawford’s wife, Donna, who serves as the accounting program’s learning and assessment coordinator. She said Threatt went to great lengths to give students one-on-one attention, even producing individual accounting problems in Quickbooks to ensure that their work was their own.
“He was intent on helping students pass their CPA exam, and he was always proud of the scores students would make on auditing,” Donna Crawford said. “You have to have a 75 percent on the exam to pass, but students would self-report to us what they made and it would often be much higher. So he would make sure the rest of us knew what his auditing students scored. He was competitive.”
She and Threatt sometimes compared their weekend mileage. If she ran eight miles, he biked 25. Active and health-conscious, Threatt was a vegan who often educated others about the lifestyle, taking his cheese alternative to a pizza restaurant to get a custom-made pie and enjoying the specialty muffins that Donna Crawford brought him on Tuesdays, a MAC program tradition. She made conventional blueberry and cinnamon muffins for the rest of the accounting crowd last week, but as usual she brought two vegan ones just for Threatt.
The Crawfords said that in addition to helping start the MAC program, Threatt’s legacy also includes an internship he organized around VITA, the national Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, as a way to help students put their accounting know-how to work for low-income families, the elderly and those with disabilities.
Student volunteers who pass three online IRS tests can earn internship credit if they spend 40 hours preparing tax returns at the VITA headquarters in Monroe. Over the past decade, Wingate students have completed more than 2,700 tax returns, helping their clients claim more than $6 million in tax refunds.
“The great thing that Bob liked about it is it’s not only applied, hands-on experience for students, but it’s helping people in the community,” said Frank, who described Threatt as a true ambassador for the University. “He was always talking about Wingate, the accounting program, different aspects of it, outside of here. I remember he befriended some folks just eating lunch with his wife at Panera. The woman he talked to ended up becoming a significant donor to the accounting program.”
A legacy of dedication
Frank said that Threatt’s dedication to his students was well-known and that he was notorious for arriving to work “well before the sun came up.” Co-workers and students said the precise time was 4:30 a.m.
“He would try to leave at 3 in the afternoon after coming in so early, but if a student needed him to stay, he stayed,” Morton said. “It didn’t matter that he only got a few hours of sleep.”
Hoppers said even though he would have already been hard at work preparing for classes when she arrived at 7 a.m., he still would ask her what he could do for her first before sharing what tasks he needed her to take care of that day.
“It was the little things that he did to make students feel so special,” she said as she described the weekday morning routine.
“I come into work at 7 a.m. and usually get a biscuit on the way. I wouldn’t bring it into the office to eat because I know he’s a vegan and I didn’t want to eat it in front of him even though he told me it was fine,” Hoppers said. “So, I would sit in my car to finish my breakfast, but just before 7 a.m., he would walk by the window and wave. He knew I was out there eating my biscuit.”
A Sparta native, she said it wasn’t unusual for Threatt to email her on a Friday evening to verify that she safely made the drive home for the weekend.
Morton, McDuffie and Hoppers spent Wednesday morning swapping Mr. Threatt stories with their MAC classmates and thinking about how they want to honor his memory.
“Getting my CPA is what I’ll do,” Morton said. “That’s what he wanted. He wanted all of us to get that licensing.”
McDuffie said she’ll try to apply Threatt-level “dedication and completeness” to whatever she sets out to do.
“I think my takeaway is ‘follow your heart,’” Hoppers said. “He always wanted what you wanted. If I told him I wanted to be a scuba-diving instructor or a welder, he would be supportive and say, ‘What could I do to help you?’ He wanted you to be happy and live your life to the fullest just like he did.”
A service to celebrate Threatt’s life is set for 4 p.m. Friday at McEwen Funeral Service-Mint Hill. Visitation will follow at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Porter Byrum School of Business via the Office of Advancement, P.O. Box 159, Wingate, NC 28174.
Oct. 2, 2019