Ed Spencer, 88, of Rockbridge County died Jan. 8

Edgar Winston Spencer, professor of geology emeritus at Washington and Lee University, died peacefully at his home on Poorhouse Mountain on Jan. 8, 2020. He was 88 years old. 

A native of Monticello, Ark., he grew up the second son of Terrel and Allie Belle Spencer with his brother, Terrel Jr. His days in Monticello were happy ones, spent amid family and friends, often visiting his grandfather’s farm, camping and exploring as a member of an avid Boy Scout troop and eventually becoming an Eagle Scout, learning photography, and getting into mischief with his friends.

Ed graduated from W&L in 1953 with a B.S. in physics and went on to Columbia University, where he earned a Ph.D. in structural geology in 1957. He spent many summers in the field during this time, studying the structure of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana. After finishing his Ph.D. he returned to W&L for what was supposed to be a two-year stint in the geology department and ended up making Lexington and W&L his permanent home. 

Soon after arriving back at W&L, he met local artist, Betty Humphris. They shared a love of natural beauty and creative projects and were wed in 1958. Together they soon produced several geology textbooks at a rapid pace. Betty created the beautiful, detailed illustrations and proofread Ed’s text. They also produced and raised two daughters, Shawn and Shannon. Ed treasured his relationships with his friends in Lexington and elsewhere, as well as his W&L colleagues, students, and alumni. 

Ed taught at W&L for 42 years, chairing the geology department for many of them. He received awards for teaching, research, and community contributions. One of the highlights of every academic year for him was the spring term field course when, along with other faculty members, he would travel with students to various locations around the country. His legendary walking speed on these fieldtrips earned him the nickname “Fast Ed.” He spent many decades hiking the Blue Ridge, eventually publishing intricate geologic maps of the Appalachian region. A well-known fixture within the W&L alumni travel programs between 1989 and 2013, he also led trips to far flung parts of the country and the world to educate folks about the role geology plays in our landscapes. 

After retirement Ed maintained an office at W&L, where he continued working on countless projects, among them, maps and guidebooks, including the much labored over “Guide to the Geology and Natural History of the Blue Ridge Mountains”.

Ed was a founding member of the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council in 1976, and in that role sought to preserve the quality of Rockbridge County through research, publications and outreach. He was a founding member of the That Club, and a longtime member of the Fortnightly Club. His pastimes included his beloved barbershop quartet, The High Rollers and taking photographs of natural beauty wherever he found it. 

Ed is survived by his wife, Liz (Betty), daughters, Shawn Spencer and her husband Steven Levine (of Boston, Mass.), and Shannon Spencer and her husband Richard Wallace (of Collegeville, Pa.) and two grandsons, Tucker and Jonah Spencer-Wallace. He also leaves behind Sarah Alice Spencer, Karen Spencer, and Matthew Spencer of Arkansas, Mary Ann Spencer, Susan Spencer, and Rebecca Schulz and her husband Chris and children Lily and Zack of Wisconsin, cousins Mildred Pendergrass, Paula Pendergrass Allen and Steve Pendergrass of Arkansas and Billy Pendergrass and his wife Mimi Atkinson of Tennessee. Spencer is also survived by brother-in-law Curtis Humphris and his wife Caroline, and nieces and nephews Margaret Ann Humphris, (Jim Shaver), David Duke Humphris, (Alison), Patsy Humphris Ledford (Joel), and Robert R. Humphris Jr.

He was predeceased by his brother and sister-in-law Terrel and Rubye Spencer, nephew Terrel Spencer III, brother-in-law Robert R. Humphris and his wife Charlotte, and nephew Curtis C. Humphris III.

The Spencer family gives its most sincere and heartfelt thanks to the wonderful people at Rockbridge Area Hospice. The depth of our gratitude for their superb support during this difficult time knows no bounds. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Rockbridge Area Hospice or the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council: Rockbridge Area Hospice, 315 Myers St., Lexington, VA 24450 or https://rahospice.givingfuel.com/support-rockbridge-area-hospice; Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, P.O. Box 564, Lexington, VA 24450 or http://rockbridgeconservation.org/join_donate.php.

 

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