By Matt Harrelson | [email protected]
ROCKINGHAM — John Spencer always remembered his father, Jesse, as very supportive. His friends called him the “friend dad.”
Jesse Spencer passed away Sunday at the age of 94, and more than just his family knew him as supportive.
Spencer was a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a certified public accountant and a founding partner of the accounting firm of Dixon, Hughes and Goodman LLC. Being an excellent accountant was just one way his presence was felt in the community.
“He was involved in purchasing the business providing accounting services,” said Steve Morris, Rockingham mayor and owner of Helms Jewelers. “Many of his partners were successful while with him. I’m sure it’s because of his training and nurturing with him.”
Another local business owner, Ken Goodman, who owned and operated R.W. Goodman Co. until it went out of the business in 2013, said Spencer did all the store’s accounting work since before he started working there full-time in 1970.
“He was a good family friend. He did all our accounting work at R.W. until they sold out and he retired,” said Goodman. “Jesse was a great guy and a terrific accountant. He did our accounting work at least as far back as the ’60s.”
Spencer was also a member of First Baptist Church in Rockingham and served in many roles with his church throughout the years.
“He was a leader in First Baptist Church for many years,” said Morris, another member of the church. “He was very loyal and faithful to the church even when his health deteriorated. We’ll miss him.”
Goodman called him a “strong member” of the church, as they both served in leadership roles at First Baptist.
“As I grew up there, he was just an inspiration in a lot of ways. He was a wonderful human being,” Goodman said. “He was an ethical professional in every way. We’ll really miss him. He was a great guy.”
Spencer served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was a member of American Legion Post 147 in Rockingham. This was another way his son, John, remembered him — as a hero.
“He went to Chapel Hill in 1939 and joined when the war began and was there until the end,” Spencer said. “He loved to talk about World War II. He flew a Martin PBM Mariner. He was a gunman. They looked for German and Japanese submarines. One time they swore they saw a submarine. It moved like a submarine, so they circled it and observed it and confirmed with whatever radar they had that there was something large. So they bombed it, and they bombed a massive whale.”
Even in death, Jesse is able to make those around him laugh, even if it’s just through the retelling of stories.
“He would make them laugh or tell a funny story and he was also very supportive in what they were involved in,” Spencer said about his dad’s interactions with his friends.
Spencer contributed his talents by serving on several local bank boards and acted as chairman of the Rockingham Urban Renewal Program. He served on the boards of Richmond Community College Foundation Inc. and the Richmond County Historical Society. He was a member of the Rotary Club and supported many charitable organizations including the March of Dimes. His generosity of spirit while serving in the community was another way those around him are able to remember him.
“He was always a gentleman. He was very instrumental in the Rockingham Urban Renewal Program,” said Morris. “He was a member of Rotary for 46 years.”
Goodman also recalled serving in Rotary with Spencer, calling him a “very important member.”
“My first memory of Jesse Spencer was over 50 years ago when he would take his late son, Walter and me to kindergarten every morning,” said Gene McLaurin, president of Quality Oil Company and a former Rockingham mayor and state senator. “He started our day in a positive and upbeat manner and come to think of it, that is the way Jesse was his entire life. Later, when I returned home from college, Jesse and I served together in Rotary and on other civic and community activities.
“Jesse was always promoting our city and county and was a trusted adviser to me, my family and many other Richmond County families and businesses on tax and financial planning. Jesse earned the trust and respect from others because he genuinely enjoyed helping people become successful. Our community has lost a good friend.”
Spencer touched many people in Richmond County, gave a lot of himself to the community and created a successful business that helped other businesses become successful, but he always made time for family.
“He worked hard, for sure,” said his son. “A lot of that meant time away, but in a small town like Rockingham, you can work some long hours and still be home for lunch and dinner.”
The family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Watson-King Funeral Home in Rockingham. Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church.
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674, listen to him at 12:10 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on WAYN 900 AM and follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson.