Edith Spencer

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  • "I will always remember Mrs. Spencer at her granddaughters..."
    - Kimberly Alberda
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A Life Well Lived
Edith Spencer was born Edith Maxham McCarthy on Aug. 9, 1915, in Chicago, Illinois. She passed away May 20, 2016, at Bear Creek Respite in Bozeman surrounded by her family.

The oldest of four children, some of her happiest childhood memories include her life with horses and a trip to Australia to visit cousins. On the boat ride over, she danced with the actor Cyril Richard and was enthralled with life on the passenger liner as well as the natural phenomena of the world "down under."

Her natural gifts were considerable. Finishing high school at the age of sixteen, she entered the University of Chicago from which she graduated when she was only nineteen years old. She then headed for Europe with a group of young women for whom she was responsible. Back in Chicago, she went to work for with Jane Adams at Hull House.

On a bicycle trip, she met Robert Clark Spencer at a youth hostel. They were later married in Chicago on Sept. 13, 1941. In concert, they raised six children, the youngest of whom, John Michael, died in childhood.

Edith and Bob lived deeply into Christianity. Edith's first step everyday was a loving one fraught with care for others. Through many hardships, her faith gave her indomitable strength both for herself and for others.

Her richly lived life included years as a beloved oldest sister, military wife in World War II in New York and California, as a young mother in Ohio and Vermont, as a pre-school teacher at the University of Vermont model kindergarten program, as a political wife when Robert was a state Senator and the Research Director of the Democratic Committee in Washington, DC, as a faculty wife at Saint Michael's College in Vermont and the University of Rhode Island, as a first lady of the Illinois State University system in Springfield, Illinois, where Robert was a university president, and as a devoted parent and beloved grandparent. In 1991, the couple moved to Bozeman where Robert taught at Montana State University and where they later retired.

Edith's life was marked by her love of beauty and the arts, and by her delight in all things natural from gardens to mountains, from lakes to oceans. She especially loved animals, and nurtured many of them. Over the years her menagerie included goats, dogs, cats, birds, horses, a donkey and cow, a pet raccoon, and she yearned to own a pet seal. She especially enjoyed a series of Golden Retrievers. Best of all, however were people, especially children.

All her life, Edith had the ability to see and bring out the best in others. She was a brilliant conversationalist, and she enthralled her friends and family with vividly told stories, complete with accents and dramatic characterizations.

When she turned 100 last year, she was asked by the local press to tell them her secret of longevity. She answered first," Butter!" and later added, "I actually don't believe in growing old. You just grow and if you get old, that's an accident." A woman of indefatigable humor, creativity, love of life and general hilarity, she brought joy to all who knew her, even at the very end of her life. She died fully conscious and surrounded by loved ones at Bear Creek Respite Center in Bozeman where her last words were, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

She leaves behind her a legacy of love and is sorely missed by her five surviving children: Meg Gorman of San Francisco, Catherine Spencer of Tucson, Arizona, Anne Spencer of New Glarus, Wisconsin, Thomas Spencer of Coleman, Florida, and David Spencer and his wife Caroline of Willow Creek, Montana; by eleven grandchildren, three great grandchildren; and by her sister, Cynthia Riley of California, and her brother, Judson McCarthy, Jr. and his wife, Susan, of Illinois.

A memorial celebration of her life will be held at her home on Aug. 7, 2016, from 1 to 4 p.m., at 2303 South Third Street, her home in Bozeman, Montana. A contact number for the family is 406-285-3730.
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Aug. 7, 2016
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