Spencer’s ‘elder statesman’ served as mentor, father figure for many

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

SPENCER — C.E. Spear, one of Spencer’s longest-serving and most beloved community leaders, died Thursday at the age of 89.
Known as Spencer’s “elder statesman” and called “Pappy” by many, Spear served 12 years on the Board of Aldermen before being elected mayor in 1977 and serving in that office for 14 years until 1991.
He was out of town government until 1997, when he filed for alderman and won a seat on the board. He retired from public office in 2009.
That’s a total of 38 years of work as a community servant.
“Everyone calls me a politician, but I don’t consider myself a politician,” Spear told the Post in 2009. “It’s just an honor to serve.”
Town leaders mourned the loss of their colleague and mentor.
“The town of Spencer lost a giant yesterday,” said Randy Gettys, a former alderman. “C.E. Spear, more than anyone who ever lived here, exemplified who we are — our principles, what is and is not important to fret about, how we resolve our differences.
“He was a friend and mentor. There’ll never be another like him.”
Spear was mayor when Jody Everhart, the current mayor, won election as an alderman. They served together for 14 years, including when their roles reversed.
Even if Spear thought Everhart made a bad decision as mayor, he delivered the criticism in a kind way, Everhart said.
“Pappy was my mentor,” Everhart said. “I never heard a bad word said about him.”
An original member of the N.C. Transportation Museum board, Spear played a role in the museum’s selection as a State Historic Site. He devoted 25 years of volunteer service to the museum in various capacities, including mechanical volunteer.
“I’ve done everything from drive a train on down,” he said with pride in the 2009 interview.
Born in Commerce, Ga., Spear moved to Spencer in 1942 at the suggestion of his brother, Fletcher, who had landed a job at Spencer Shops. Spear went to work for the railroad, then served a stint in the Army at the end of World War II, stringing communication lines across Japan in anticipation of the occupation by the United States.
He returned to Spencer following his military service and worked as a boilermaker at Spencer Shops until the huge railroad repair yard closed in 1960.
Spear and his brother-in-law, the late Lawrence Grubb (they married sisters), opened Industrial Repairs Co. off Long Ferry Road. They worked as steel fabricators and remained in business 26 years.
Local politicians often sought out Spear’s guidance and advice.
“He was almost like a father or grandfather. You could go and talk to him,” Everhart said. “He was a very honest, very caring man.”
Spear hand-picked his successor to the mayor’s office. Just before the deadline to file for election in 1991, Spear asked Buddy Gettys to run for mayor.
“I thought others were more qualified, but he sort of insisted,” Buddy Gettys said.
Gettys won the race, and six years later, Spear joined him on the board as an alderman. The two worked together for merging Spencer’s water and sewer system with Salisbury’s system, Gettys said.
“We considered it a win-win situation for both towns,” Gettys said.
Spear was often described as a southern gentleman who was polite and kind to everyone.
“I certainly consider it a pleasure to have known him,” Gettys said. “Spencer will miss C.E. Spear.”
Spear was married to Julia Spear for 67 years. He is also survived by their son, Samuel Spear.
Visitation is tonight from 7 to 8:30 at Summersett Funeral Home in Salisbury. The funeral will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Summersett, with a graveside memorial service afterward at Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Salisbury.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.