STOCKBRIDGE — John H. Spencer Jr. was a longtime public servant in his adopted town of Stockbridge, but his greatest impact came as an educator and mentor to hundreds of students over the years, friends and colleagues said on Tuesday.
"He literally hired the first history department at Monument Mountain Regional High school," said his fellow teacher and longtime friend John A. Beacco Jr. "He led in developing a unique ninth-grade course. As a department head, he mentored me, Roselle Chartock, Terry Flynn and Bill Fields, as well as many others."
Spencer died early Sunday at age 80.
He was the longtime chairman of the Stockbridge Planning Board, as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals. He was also the longtime president and member of the board of trustees for the Stockbridge Library Association.
He was one of the founders of the Fund For Excellence at the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, and was also a member of Student Center Inc., which supported student activities at Monument.
Beacco said he and Spencer had "almost parallel careers. We graduated from Amherst six years apart, both taught at the former Williams High school and at Monument Mountain and both worked in the history department."
He called Spencer a "superb" high school teacher.
There was no one better at asking questions and leading students to decide for themselves, he said.
"Rote," Beacco said, "was not rewarded and humor was encouraged."
Terry Flynn echoed those sentiments.
"He was very much into helping kids find their own path," he said. "His life's work was to affirm people."
Spencer was very much invested in his students — even after they graduated.
"He kept tabs on them long after they left Monument," Flynn said. "He would hear of one of his students doing something, say, giving a violin concert somewhere, and he'd call me and say, 'Do you want to come with me and see this?' He was very supportive of all his students."
"He invested much time and energy in every student he taught," agreed a former student, Patricia Vincent. "He was a wonderful teacher who made every student think and challenge previously unquestioned notions."
Spencer headed the creation of a program about the Holocaust that was, Flynn said, one of the first in the country.
He was, said fellow Planner Gary Pitney, equally as facile in town politics.
"I remember when I was named chairman of the Planning Board," Pitney said. "I stopped by his house and just talked with him for hours. He was such a great source of information."
"Jack was such a big part of our town," said former Town Clerk and Town Administrator Jorja-Ann P. Marsden. "He was involved in so many facets of the town. And he was a wonderful man."
"He had a way of listening to a variety of ideas and collating them into one thought," Pitney said. "And then making it all make sense."
"When he was on the Planning Board, he wrote most of the town's zoning bylaws and master plan," Beacco said.
Beacco recalled that he often met with Spencer when both were chairmen of their respective boards; Beacco on the Select Board, Spencer on the Planning Board.
"We wanted to make sure we knew what each other was thinking," Beacco said. "I respected his opinions."
Interestingly, Beacco saod, both men were opposed to the move of the Norman Rockwell Museum from Main Street to its present site in Glendale.
"But," he said, "we both agreed that the move worked out."
Spencer was born in Adams in 1936, near the apex of the town's emergence as a regional high school basketball power. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the players and teems of that era.
"Adams was near and dear to his heart," said his daughter, Ann Marie Miller. "He was very fond of Adams until the day he died."
Spencer met his wife, the former Judith Leahy, while both were teaching at Williams.High School in Stockbridge. In 1965, they married.
Judith Spencer, who died in 2011, was herself an activist and an accomplished teacher. They were husband and wife, best friends, and partners in civic service for more than 50 years.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, John Haines Spencer, Jr. passed away. And the world will never be the same.
Born September 15, 1936 to John Haines Spencer and Pauline Simmons Spencer, Jack was raised in Adams, Massachusetts. After graduating from Williston Prep School and Amherst College, he received a Masters in Education from Purdue University. While teaching at Williams High School in Stockbridge, he had the good fortune to meet and fall in love with Social Studies teacher Judith Leahey. On February 20, 1965, he had the good sense to marry her and continue a love affair that spanned more than fifty years.
Mr. Spencer was an educator for 47 years. He taught Social Studies at Williams High School and Monument Mountain Regional High School and was Principal of Searles Middle School. He encouraged students to be conscious seekers and doers, to be disturbers of the universe. He was chair of the Monument Social Studies department from its inception in 1967. The department created the first Holocaust curriculum for high school students in the country. Jack and Roselle Chartock coedited the anthology that came out of that curriculum.
Jack had a love of Stockbridge and its citizens, community activism and participation in government. He served on numerous committees and boards, including the Stockbridge Planning Board (chairman) and Zone of Appeals, The Stockbridge Library (president and member of the Board of Trustees), The Fund for Excellence and School Center, Inc. He was instrumental in writing the zoning bylaws for Stockbridge.
Jack is survived by daughters Ann Marie (Scott) Miller, Kathy (Fred) Erickson, sisters Judy Burbank and Cyndie Spencer (Denny Lund), Pat and Buz Hanley, Mike and Sally Leahey, Fred Wigge an exchange student who became part of the family, grandchildren Eric, Kristen and Amanda Miller and Emily Erickson, many close cousins, nieces and nephews and grand nieces and nephews, the lucky 13 and generations of well-educated students, an astounding number of loving friends and a grateful community.
He is predeceased by his parents Haines, Pauline and Louise Spencer, his wonderful wife Judy, and his step-mother Pat Swann.