President Fox on the Passing of Samuel R. Spencer


Special note: Services for Samuel R. Spencer Jr. will be held at 2:30 p.m. on October 21 at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church with a reception to follow in the Lilly Family Gallery in the Chambers Building.

Dear Mary Baldwin University Community:

With deep personal sadness, I write to share the news that today a truly great man has passed from among us. Dr. Samuel R. Spencer, Jr., the fifth president of Mary Baldwin University from 1957 to 1968, died this morning in the company of his family at age 94. His was a remarkable spirit and an exceptional life, and we celebrate his personal and professional accomplishments while mourning our community’s loss.

The namesake of our Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement, the Spencer Society, and Spencer Residence Hall, he guided our college into a legendary era of physical growth that saw the construction of five hallmark buildings on campus — Hunt Dining Hall, Grafton Library, Woodson Residence Hall, Spencer Residence Hall, and Pearce Science Center. Just as important, his kindness, his obvious joy in fostering meaningful and lasting relationships, and his insistence on intellectual engagement with the world will be his enduring legacy.

Dr. Spencer was an exceptionally young college president, coming to Mary Baldwin at only 38 years old. His wife, Ava, and their four children were great favorites among students and the broader community. After his tenure here, his distinguished career continued as he took on the presidency of his alma mater, Davidson College.

Throughout his life he continued to be one of Mary Baldwin’s most steadfast champions, returning to campus often and serving on our Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2007. The opening of the Spencer Center in 2007 recognized his legacy and his commitment to the full richness of exploration and connection made possible by liberal education. Not quite one year ago, with great pride he witnessed his own daughter, Ava Clayton Spencer, installed as the president of Bates College.

A date for the memorial service has not yet been set. We will share that information as soon as it is available.

We invite you to post tributes, memories, and photos on the Mary Baldwin University Facebook page at, or to send them via email to