An important event in his life was the World War II GI Bill. Although he has a lifetime of achievements, he started his life in poverty. Born in rural San Diego in 1922, he and his four brothers and sisters lived with his mother after his parents separated. For a while they lived, on the earnings of his two brothers who caddied on weekends. His mother worked for 25 years sorting lemons grown in southern San Diego County.
He was the only member of his family ever to attend college. After high school, he attended San Diego State College, courtesy of his brother who paid his way. He did not do well at college. After two years, he ended up on probation and his brother withdrew his support. He worked at the Piggly Wiggly store and a nursery/flower shop at a starting salary of $15 a week until he was drafted in 1942. He had never held a gun before basic training but he became a marksman and he was promoted first to corporal and later to sergeant. He found his way to Officer Candidate School and, in 1945, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the infantry. He served as a prosecutor in General Courts Martial in Germany, where he met his wife, Fran, who was a U. S. civilian court reporter. They spent their honeymoon in Venice and he left the service in 1949 to earn a college degree.
Returning to San Diego State University on the GI Bill, he was inspired by Professor Charles W. Lamden to major in accounting and undertake an accounting career. Professor Ruel Lund from the University of Minnesota who visited San Diego offered him an assistantship at the University of Minnesota, and he went to the latter institution for his graduate work with Professor Carl L. Nelson. He received his Ph.D. in 1956. Subsequently he served on the faculties of the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, and Stanford University. In 1973, he was selected to serve on the Financial Accounting Standards Board, a post to be held for nearly 13 years, serving as the Board's vice-chairman for 11 of those years.
With his colleague, Accounting Hall of Fame member Maurice Moonitz, he co-authored major accounting studies for the Accounting Principles Board. He was president of the American Accounting Association in 1972-73 and following his service on the FASB, was its first director of publications in 1987. Many of his publications are now regarded as classics.
He and Fran, his wife of 47 years, have a son and a daughter. He has received many honors. Since his retirement, he has become involved as an owner and breeder of thoroughbred race horses. For recreation he himself runs competitively as well as for pleasure, gardens and swims. He is the 54th member of the Accounting Hall of Fame, Robert Thomas Sprouse.