In Memoriam: John Richard Spence | Mary Emma (Grady) Spence

In Memoriam: John Richard Spence | Mary Emma (Grady) Spence
Emma and Richard (Dick) Spence

John Richard Spence

November 29, 1928 – December 17, 2020

Mary Emma (Grady) Spence

March 25, 1933 – July 15, 2021

The Spence siblings agree that their mother died of a broken heart after losing her husband Dick after 65 years of marriage. Dick and Emma married at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in August of 1955 where Emma had gone to school. For the first year of their married life, they were at Ft. Bragg where Dick served with the Army Corps of Engineers. After a brief time in Dick’s state of Wisconsin there was a “non- negotiable” part to their marriage contract. Having grown up with the oaks and magnolias of Avondale, the snow and freezing cold of Michigan was too much for the Florida native bride, so the young couple returned to settle in Jacksonville where Dick founded the Jacksonville Construction Company in 1958. Children arrived over the next years and Emma, a Home Economics major from Barry College in Miami, had her hands full with Celia, Catherine, Susan, John and Tom. Michael was stillborn in 1963. She taught 4th and 5th grade at Assumption for one year and worked as a “merchandising assistant” at Furchgott’s Department Store which Susan and Catherine find amusing since her actual job was working at the scarf counter and it lasted about a month. The siblings said Mary Emma ran a “tight ship” at home. Tom remarked, “We spoke when spoken to. You couldn’t answer the phone until you could say, “Spence family, Tom speaking.” Susan reiterated, “There was a chart for chores – a blackboard on the back of the kitchen door – set the table, clear the table, take out the garbage, sweep.” The Spence kids, like most kids of the time played all over Ortega Forrest but Susan said, “It was important for everyone to be together for dinner.” Catherine mentioned that her mother had a whistle which she would stand outside and blow 3 times to summon her children. “By the second blast you had better be on the way home and get washed up.”

Basketball, dance classes, swimming at the Yacht Club, the YMCA, various camps, church events, creating and sewing dance and Halloween costumes or bridesmaids’ dresses, Emma Spence was on the go. Tom said they spent a LOT of time in Cloth World which was at Cedar Hills Shopping Center. Emma was busy caring for her family while Dick was busy selling all the rebar that went into making the overland bridge for I – 95, building houses in Confederate Point and many of the houses in Ortega Forrest. He built the Lowndes County High School Stadium (where Tom filmed a football game for CBS SPORTS a couple of years ago) and he built condos in Colorado and served as a consultant on many other projects. He served as chairman of the building committee in the construction of the St. Matthews Catholic Church Parish Center where they were members, sat on the front row and “faithfully served” throughout their married lives. 

Emma and Richard Spence - wedding photo 1955
Emma and Richard Spence – wedding photo 1955

Recently, Catherine and her husband drove around Ortega Forrest as she pointed out all the houses her father had built including Dr. and Mrs. George Trotter’s house and Dr. Totter’s office in Riverside. When Dick bought property on Longbow to build a house for his family in 1971, he consulted the kids on the plans, explained that it would cost $35,000.00 and engaged the children in decision making. They discussed many details — the cost of windows, how to save money on various aspects of the design. The siblings agreed laughingly that their dad was a miser. Tom recalled having to go out to their electric meter every day and mark down how many kilowatts they were using and put it on a chart. If they went over the designated amount their dad allowed, he pulled the power switch. Catherine laughed. “Then we had to read with flashlights. It happened about once a month.”

In between her other activities Emma served as the “contractress,” as she called herself, for the new house . She arrived at the worksite carrying the house plans and wearing a shirtwaist dress accessorized with a tool belt and a hard hat. Every Friday night or Saturday the kids served as the clean- up and painting crew. Susan remarked, “It was so cool to have a tie in to our house.”

The Spences instilled a sense of “stick-to-itiveness,” a respect for education, frugality, faith, honesty, loyalty, dedication to home and family and a strong work ethic in their children. Dick worked until he was 88 years old at his second career of thirty seven years with Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company. As Susan and Catherine said, “He worked longer at his second career than most people work on their first! Dad knew a lot about a lot of things not just a little bit about lots of things.”

The Spences played tennis, were members of the Florida Yacht Club – Dick, an avid life- long sailor was also a member of the board of directors. He also served on the board of Ye Mystic Reveller’s, the Speech and Hearing Board and was a member of Arlington Rotary Club. At St. Matthews Church Emma founded the VIA program and volunteered in the 4-year-old classroom. She was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary at St. Vincent’s Hospital for 50 years! Dick and Emma were held in high regard in the community and will be remembered fondly by all who knew them.  They leave a legacy of honesty, integrity, and devotion to family set by the example of their faith filled lives. Their love for each other was evident in the way they treated each other, never arguing or fussing, kissing each time they left the house, even if it was just to run to the grocery store, and kissing on their return. Their lives and marriage were an example of stability, love and devotion for their children, grand and great grand- children to model and cherish.

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