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John Spencer, retired NSA supervisor and Lutheran layman

John Spencer, retired NSA supervisor and Lutheran layman
John A. Spencer, a former National Security Agency staff chief, died Sept. 8. (HANDOUT)

John A. Spencer, a retired National Security Agency staff chief who was active in Lutheran congregations, died of prostate cancer Sept. 8 at the Hospice of the Chesapeake in Pasadena. The Severna Park resident was 70.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, he was the son of Roger M. Spencer, a Linotype operator, and Vera Kins, a teacher. He was a 1964 graduate of Belmont High School and played in its orchestra; he was also active in Scouting. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Ohio State University and a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University.

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He met his future wife, Donna Haines, on a blind date at Ohio State's student union.

Family members said that in 1968, in his senior year at Ohio, he was waiting for her to leave her class when he spotted a sign posted on a bulletin board: "NSA hiring on campus." He arranged an interview.

"He said, 'I've never been to Baltimore,' and he thought it sounded intriguing," his wife said.

He was hired in 1968 and joined the intelligence agency at Fort Meade.

"He loved his years at the agency and believed in its mission, the people he worked with and the opportunities it afforded," said his wife.

Mr. Spencer retired in 2000 as a staff chief in the Information Systems Security Directorate. While working there, he was awarded the Director's Fellowship, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award and the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Excellence.

He later held posts with Computer Sciences Corp., Shipley Associates and at the University of Maryland's National Foreign Language Center, where he wrote proposals and ran programs.

Born a Lutheran, and a member of the Luther League as a teenager, he held leadership positions in church congregations throughout his life. He initially joined Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Severna Park. He was later vice president of Christ Lutheran Church in the Inner Harbor. He helped lead its soup kitchen and organized dinners at its shelter.

"John was happy and always had a smile," said the Rev. John R. Sabatelli of Catonsville, Christ Lutheran's retired pastor. "He held the highest lay office in the congregation and was especially helpful with helping out with church property, including a parking garage the congregation owns."

Mr. Sabatelli also recalled, "John was a fastidious person. He was not a legalist, but he was the kind of person who catalogued his home library. He was always impeccably dressed. He dotted every 'i,' but he also had a big vision. He was honorable and a straight shooter."

He became the Lutheran Synod's representative and president of All Saints Lutheran Church on Loch Raven Boulevard about 10 years ago. He served that congregation as it went through a parish reorganization.

Mr. Spencer kept a large library and read espionage stories, novels by James Michener and Tom Clancy, and histories.

He was a a fancier of classic cars and owned a Triumph 4 and a 6, as well as a 1964 Porsche. His last Porsche was a 1980 model 911.

"He knew good mechanics," his wife said. "On a sunny day, when there was no rain, he'd say, "Looks like a great Porsche day.' "

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He played golf at public courses and at Fort Meade.

He was an accomplished cook and was known for his Chinese dishes and pork loin and salmon prepared on an outdoor grill. He read cookbooks for tips and planned meals from appetizer through dessert.

He enjoyed entertaining neighbors and church friends and brought food ideas back from trips to Europe. After watching an Italian chef make pasta, he bought a pasta machine for his Severna Park kitchen. One of his signature desserts was savory cheesecake with a polenta crust, family members said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 20 at Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles St.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, the retired principal of Lake Shore Elementary School in Pasadena; two daughters, Meghan Spencer of Annapolis and Amy Spencer of Richmond, Va.; a sister, Susan Spencer Marsden of Tacoma, Wash.; and six grandchildren.

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