Henry Spencer (65) dies after short illness

2010-12-28 00:00

WELL-KNOWN Woodlands resident Henry Spencer (65) died recently after a short illness.

Spencer, a former school teacher whose movement and speech were impaired after a hit-and-run accident in 1962, never lost his intellect. He was a regular contributor to The Witness letters column and was active in a number of community organisations.

Spencer lived at the Isabel Beardmore Home for the Aged for over 29 years. His sister, Pat Spencer, said that because of his physical handicap he did not want to be a burden to any family members, preferring to take care of himself. He became involved in the affairs of the home while helping new members to adjust.

One of those he assisted was Esme Isaacs, who moved into Isabel Beardmore in 2000 after she had lost her sight. They became firm companions and three years later Spencer proposed to Isaacs.

He became a bridegroom for the first time at the age of 63.

Spencer wrote to the newspaper about his pending marriage, asking for coverage of the event as he said, “such joyous occasions are too few and far between”.

The Witness reported on the wedding, which took place in March 2008.

Isaacs’s son, Clinton, said in his speech that if he had any doubts about the marriage these were soon banished. He saw Spencer fetch books from the library for his mother and read to her. He described television shows to her, took her for walks and read the Bible to her.

Spencer grew up in Flagstaff in the Transkei. His sister Pat said it was while he was studying in Cape Town that he was involved in an accident that left his jaw, arms and legs broken and skull fractured.

“Henry was in a coma for over three months and his recovery was due to his tenacity and perseverance. He never gave up. As a family we were devastated because he had been brilliant in maths, the sciences, English and music.”

Spencer was left severely physically handicapped with limited use of both his hands and legs as well as a speech impediment.

Determined to make it on his own, he left the family home in Flagstaff and moved to Pietermaritzburg where he got a job in the library at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. After retiring he worked in Scottsville for horse-racing company Gold Circle.

In 2009 he was presented with an award for 20 years of faithful service to the company. Besides his involvement with Isabel Beardmore Home, he served on the parish council of St Martin de Porres Catholic Church, as well as on civic and welfare committees.

Pat says what she will remember most about her brother was his tolerance. He was often mocked for his awkward gait and slurred speech, but patiently went about his business and never lost his cool.

“Henry was a shining example of what it means to overcome adversity and make the best of whatever difficulties life throws your way by never giving up. I will always picture him with his nose buried in a book or a newspaper. He loved reading and his greatest joy was seeing his letters published in The Witness,” said Pat.

Spencer leaves his widow and five sisters.

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