Dr. Otha Spencer
Beloved TAMU-C Professor
by: Bobby McDonald
Word has been received of the passing away of beloved and distinguished, retired TAMU-C Journalism Professor, Dr. Otha Spencer.
Spencer has written over 300 illustrated magazine articles during a lifetime of freelance writing and has published 10 books.
In retirement, he has continued his writing and is also a commercial photographer. Spencer is completing a history of the Cotton Belt railroad in Commerce, titled "The Lonesome Whistle," soon to be released.
Active in the Commerce community, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Commerce Chamber of Commerce in 1991 and that year started the Commerce Public Library Literacy Program with Nan Clay that is still in operation.
At A&M-Commerce, Spencer won the Spirit of Mayo Award given by President Jerry Morris in 1996 and the Spirit of Mayo Award by President McFarland in 2006. This award is given to individuals for exemplifying the credo of university founder William L. Mayo, especially unselfish service to others.
Otha Spencer was one of true pioneers of weather reconnaissance. He was hand-picked in 1944 as a member of the Army Hurricane Reconnaissance Unit. A B-25D aircraft commander, Otha flew most every type of weather mission that later became the staple of Air Weather Service crews. Prior to their first hurricane missions, the B-25 crews flew numerous route recon flights from Newfoundland to Greenland to Iceland and on to Scotland in early 1944. After this 3-day trip, the crews turned around and flew back. The data they collected helped greatly improve forecasts provided to ferry crews bringing all types of aircraft to the allied forces in England. In the Altantic and Carribean that year, the crews sent numerous synoptic observations as well as specific reports on the tropical systems. Lieutenant Spencer also displayed a talent for writing that would later lead to a career as a Professor of Journalism at Texas A&M University-Commerce. He was selected to write the Report on Hurricane Reconnaissance During 1944. This is a must read for all who are interested in tropical storm data collection flights. After the 1944 Atlantic storm season, the unit was disbanded and the crews were sent to the China India Burma theater. Flying the B-25s, as well as C-46 and C-47 aircraft, these pathfinder weather missions made the flights a bit safer for the rest of the "Hump" flyers. Otha has authored numerous books, including Flying the Weather, the story of air weather reconnaissance. He was alife member of AWRA, the Air Weather Association and the Pacific Air Weather Squadrons.
Dr. Spencer was a talent at everything he pursued in life, leaving a lasting legacy to his students, his family, and the TAMU-C campus.
Otha Spencer was born on April 27, 1920 in Lone Oak, Texas to Barney Byron Spencer and Flora Rudd Spencer. He grew up in Greenville with his brother Ollie Leo Spencer, until he moved to Commerce in 1938 to attend college.
The young student Otha met his wife and best friend of 66 years at the boarding house of Mr. and Mrs. Claude Abernathy in Commerce, where he worked his way through college washing dishes. He always told the story of enlisting the then17 year old Abernathy daughter, Billie Ermine, to help with the final rinse so they could hold hands under the water. He would conclude the tale of how he started with a job and ended up with a wife. On January 28, 1943, Otha married Billie in Columbia, South Carolina before he headed off for his tenure in World War II.
During World War II, Otha served in the U. S. Army Air Force. He was assigned to the China-Burma-India Theater, where he flew supplies over the Hump (the eastern end of the Himalayas) from India to China. Otha was also a B-25 instructor, a weather reconnaissance pilot in the North Atlantic, and a hurricane reconnaissance pilot in the South Atlantic.
Otha graduated from East Texas State Teachers College (now Texas A&M University Commerce) with a B.S. in 1941 and an M.S. in 1946. In 1955, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia.
After the war, Otha returned to Commerce and joined the ETSU faculty in 1948, where he taught photography and journalism until his retirement in 1978 with the title of Professor Emeritus. He is recognized and remembered for establishing the university's photojournalism program, one of the top programs in the university system at that time. Soon after his arrival back in Commerce, he and Billie had a son, John and a daughter, Mary who both attended Texas A&M University Commerce.
After retiring from teaching, Otha continued to write and work as a commercial photographer. He and Billie also ran the Country Studio, a wonderful cozy whimsical shop, which sold unique gifts, antiques and collectibles, as well as custom picture framing. People came to The Country Studio from all around East Texas to shop for unique gifts and enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation in the store’s scenic and peaceful setting within the oak trees of the Spencer Compound and among the wide array of various dogs, cats, horses, and wildlife.
A memorial service is scheduled on Saturday, June 16th, at 10:00 a.m. at Brighten Cemetery, near Campbell, Texas, with a formal service at First United Methodist Church in Commerce, following at 11:00 a.m.
Dr.Otha Spencer is survived by a son John Spencer and his wife Joanne of San Jose, California, daughter Mary Spencer of Dallas, Texas, grandson Will Spencer and his wife Janyce of Concord, California, granddaughter Gwendolyn Spencer of San Jose, California, and great granddaughter Emi Elyse Spencer of Concord, California.
He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother, and his beloved wife Billie Spencer.