The Rev. Ricky Spain, pastor of East Baltimore's Waters African Methodist Episcopal Church who had also been a community activist in his years as an Annapolis-area pastor, died of cancer Nov. 16 at the Tate Chesapeake Hospice House in Linthicum. The Severn resident was 63.
Born in Virginia Beach, Va., he was the son of Luther and Florence Spain. A 1967 graduate of First Colonial High School, he won state honors for wrestling. After studying at Norfolk State University, he earned a bachelor's degree in political science at North Carolina Wesleyan College.
He also earned a master's degree in divinity at Wesleyan Theological Seminary and had additional degrees in guidance counseling and adult education from Carolina A&T; State University and a doctorate of humane letters from Paul Quinn College in Dallas. He also served in the Marine Corps.
Before becoming pastor of the Waters AME Church in 2005, he was an associate minister at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, D.C. He also had assignments in Asheville, N.C., Reidsville, N.C., where he was elected to the City Council in 1977, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Nearly 20 years ago, Mr. Spain became pastor of the Mount Olive AME Church on Hicks Avenue in Parole. He became active in local affairs and managed a campaign to get Carlesa R. Finney named to the Anne Arundel County school board. She later headed the board for three years.
"He had a forceful voice and was a commanding presence," said Ms. Finney, who is now the executive director of the school system's office of equity assurance and human relations. "People knew he was trying to engage us in the political process. He made sure the black community would have a role in events in the county. He was a mover and a shaker, and liked to see people rally around cases."
She recalled Mr. Spain's encouragement: "Carlesa, we'll stand behind you if you run for the school board."
In 1993, County Executive Robert R. Neall named him to the Anne Arundel County Welfare Reform Initiative Task Force. Mr. Spain was also a member of the United Black Clergy, a Children at Risk schools program, the Committee for a Drug-Free Annapolis, the county School Guidance Advisory Council and the Anne Arundel Red Cross board of directors.
Mr. Spain also held the post of editor in chief of the African Methodist Episcopal Christian Recorder.
"He was gentle, kindhearted, but forceful and honest," said his wife, the former Annie Graves. "He knew how to earn your respect. He was also charismatic and a trusted person. His word was his bond."
She said that her husband was also an addictions counselor for the Baltimore City Health Department and worked in that field in downtown Baltimore at the state prison complex.
"He lived the life he preached," she said. "He did what he could to keep folks off the streets."
She said he sponsored Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and also had a weekly meal for the homeless at his Aisquith Street church in Oldtown.
"He was a humble servant, not a celebrity," said a close friend, the Rev. Errol Gilliard Sr., pastor of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church on West Saratoga Street. "He had a love for his work and a love for preaching, but he was not the guy who had to have the spotlight."
Mr. Gilliard said that Mr. Spain believed in the ecumenical ties between denominations and was able to break down traditional barriers.
He also remembered him as an adviser. "I cannot recall a time when I had a personal crisis that Ricky Spain was not there," he said.
The Rev. Cordell E. Hunter Jr., presiding elder of the Eastern District of the Baltimore Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, recalled his "compassion for people and love for people" and said he was an "effective shepherd."
Mr. Hunter, who lives in Aberdeen, said he "perpetuated the principals of African Methodism who had a sense of humor that galvanized others."
"He was a man of courage and compassion," said the Rev. Larry Stanwyck Hinton, a presiding elder who lives in Clayton. N.C. "He was there to help people who needed it. He believed there was always hope and the possibilities to make a difference."
Mr. Spain was a member of the Prince Hall Masons and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Services will be held at noon Saturday at Bethel AME Church, 1500 Druid Hill Ave.
In addition to his wife of 33 years, survivors include three sons, Titus Spain of Reston, Va., Shae Spain of Salisbury and Ricky Spain II of Severn; a daughter, Amber Spain of Hanover; three brothers, Luther Carter Spain of Virginia Beach, Va., Ray Spain of Warrenton, N.C., and Kirby Spain of Tampa, Fla.; a sister, Fay Wilson of Hampton, Va.; and three grandchildren.