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J. Ronald Spencer ’64

Teacher, administrator, adviser, academic innovator, historian, alumnus, colleague, both friend and son of the College—on the eve of his “retirement,” Ron Spencer considers his time at Trinity.

Interview conducted by Drew Sanborn, Reporter editor

What brought you back to Trinity after graduate school?

The short answer is that George Cooper, who was the chair of the History Department, called and offered me a job. I had grown very fond of this place during my four years as an undergraduate, so neither George nor anyone else had to twist my arm to persuade me to come back. I felt that I owed the College a lot. It had started me on a path in adult life that I might not have traveled if I’d been at another school and not had the good fortune to have some wonderful people here exert a great deal of influence on me. So there was the job, there was the call, and it took me—though we didn’t use the word in those days—all of five nanoseconds to decide I was going to do it.

Who were some of the Trinity people that were important to you as an undergraduate?

There were many who shaped me and had a lingering influence. Philip Kintner, with whom I studied a lot of European history, and certainly John Butler, the legendary director of placement who is fondly remembered by countless older alumni. John was instrumental in getting many, many people into graduate and professional schools. When I was interested in pursuing journalism, he helped me get a job with the Hartford Times, the old evening newspaper. I wrote part-time for them during my second two years and full-time for three consecutive summers, including the summer after I graduated.

I’ve mentioned George Cooper. I had never known anyone like George. I didn’t seek to ape his manners, but I strove to live up to his high expectations. I learned something about academic quick-wittedness from him, something I greatly admired. I wish I were half as good at it as he was.

There were others. For example, Bill Johnson, in the Religion Department, with whom I took several courses. He was something of an activist before activism washed over college campuses. When Jack Chatfield ’64 and the late Ralph Allen ’64 were working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in southwest Georgia in 1962, Bill and another student and I drove in Bill’s old Volvo down to Albany, Georgia, to see them. I did some stories about them for the Hartford Times. He was a very influential figure. He taught existentialism and Christian social ethics. He was very much committed to the civil rights movement. He raised with me—and many other students—ethical issues that I had never even heard of before. For example, it was in a course with Bill that I first encountered the term “euthanasia.”

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