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Frederick J. Spencer


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Date published: 6/22/2014

Frederick J. Spencer

Dr. Frederick John Spencer, 90, of Ruther Glen died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at a private nursing home in Glen Allen.

Dr. Spencer was health director of Fredericksburg and surrounding counties from 1956 to 1962.

Born in Newcastle, England, on June 30, 1923, Fred Spencer led a remarkable life, as an athlete, physician, soldier, musician, teacher, public servant, historian, author and civil rights activist.

His ancestors had been farmers for centuries in Northumberland, England, and he grew up working on his uncles' farms. His father was a career soldier who retired to be a tea merchant, and he handed down to young Fred his love of the outdoors.

As a schoolboy, Spencer was named a King's Scholar, an honor bestowed each year on only a handful of students. When the time came to choose a college, he turned down Oxford and Cambridge to stay close to home, attending Durham University. Spencer was a world-class athlete. At Durham, he was on the rugby, cricket, rowing and water polo teams. Rugby was his best sport, and he was named the starting fullback on the All-University team, the equivalent of an All-American. He could have played rugby for England's international squad, but instead enlisted in the British Army as soon as he finished his university education.

With a degree in medicine, Spencer was commissioned as a captain and he signed on as a paratrooper with the 6th Airborne Division. Serving in Palestine during the British Mandate, he came under fire on several occasions, the worst when he went to retrieve a wounded soldier during a firefight between Israelis and Palestinians.

Spencer loved to travel, and after the army, he moved to Canada to intern at a hospital in Ontario, which he followed up with a residency at a hospital in New York. In his teens, Spencer had fallen in love with jazz and he taught himself the drums by playing along with records on a phonograph in the garage. As a young man in New York, he spent many nights watching his childhood idols perform at jazz clubs on 52nd Street, famed as Manhattan's Swing Street. Whenever he could, he would sit in at jam sessions.


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