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Marian E. Spencer, educator

Marian E. Spencer was a retired educator who had worked as a policewoman and truant officer.
Marian E. Spencer was a retired educator who had worked as a policewoman and truant officer.

Marian E. Spencer, a retired educator who had worked as a policewoman and truant officer, died of multiple myeloma Nov. 27 at FutureCare Old Court. The longtime Randallstown resident was 82.

The daughter of Rufus Thompson, a landlord, property manager and businessman, and Lillian Thompson, a homemaker, Marian Eugenia Thompson was born in Baltimore and raised in Wilson Park.

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After her mother's death, Mrs. Spencer and a sister, Gladys, moved to an apartment in the 2500 block of Madison Ave. in the city's Sugar Hill neighborhood.

"We essentially raised each other. I was 14 and Gladys was 15. We went to school every day, cooked dinners each evening and helped our father in his grocery store after school and on weekends," Mrs. Spencer told The Baltimore Sun when her sister died in 2009.

Because the two sisters were inseparable, friends often referred to them as one unit, "GladysandMarian," recalled Mrs. Spencer.

Mrs. Spencer graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1950.

She was working as a school secretary when she met and fell in love with Milton Spencer, an Army sergeant who was in the service with her sister Gladys' husband.

"There is some disagreement about this, but she always contended that she was in the kitchen washing dishes one evening when he walked in and said, 'You know, if you fixed yourself up sometime, I might take you out,'" said her daughter, Diana L. Spencer, a communications officer for Baltimore County public schools.

"One can only imagine what her response was but soon thereafter they did go out, and on Nov. 21, 1952, they were married in a small ceremony in a friend's living room," said her daughter, who lives in Rodgers Forge.

After the birth of her second daughter, Mrs. Spencer returned to work in 1962 as a Baltimore policewoman, a job that she held for a year.

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As she raised her daughters, Mrs. Spencer became deeply involved with the Child Study Association, whose mission focused on understanding child development and promoting interracial harmony.

During this time, she took dozens of college courses related to psychology, sociology, child development and family dynamics.

In 1967, she became a truant officer-home visitor for city public schools, a position she held until 1982.

Mrs. Spencer's job was to visit the homes of chronically truant students, inform their parents of the situation and encourage them to return to school before legal action ensued.

"She brought home stories every day about the poverty and neglect she saw, and she transformed her job into one of action," her daughter said. "She began taking soap, deodorant and clothing from her own home so they could return to school."

Mrs. Spencer established attendance clubs and persuaded area businesses to reward truant children with incentives for good attendance and grades.

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She also met with club members frequently to mentor them and encourage them to stay in school.

"I got to know her in 1974, and she brought a great sense of energy to her work. She was a pleasure to work with and she always had so many ideas," said Gilder Kelly-Downing in Randallstown, who was a fellow truant officer.

"We worked on so many projects together. She established a truancy court, and we worked with both the children and parents before they had to go to real court," she said.

"And she was very good with them and tried to help them get their lives straightened out. I was very sad when she left because she had so much to offer," said Ms. Kelly-Downing.

Mrs. Spencer earned an associate's degree in 1978 from what is now the Community College of Baltimore County at Catonsville and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore with a degree in history in 1981.

She stepped down from being a truant officer and briefly worked at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn before returning to the field of education in 1984 when she became an English for Speakers of Other Languages tutor for Baltimore County public schools.

Susan C. Spinnato, who is now director of instructional programs for the Maryland State Department of Education, had been the ESOL coordinator for Baltimore County.

"I remember Marian as being sweet and kind and a joy to be around," said Ms. Spinnato, who lives in Perry Hall. "She worked in elementary schools in the ESOL program with immigrant children. She was very dedicated and talented and went way beyond working with families."

She said Mrs. Spencer worked generally with small groups of students.

"They connected with her and she had the ability to give them individual attention, and long after they had left ESOL she kept in touch with them," she said."

Mrs. Spencer retired in 1996.

"She loved working with eager students who had moved here from other countries. She made lasting ties with many of the students and their families," her daughter said. "She made whatever job she did even more effective, more significant."

Mrs. Spencer enjoyed reading, writing and "throwing parties," her daughter said.

Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, 11501 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Spencer is survived by her husband of 62 years, who is the retired director of group life for the state Department of Juvenile Services; another daughter, Sondra L. Spencer of Randallstown; three brothers, Rufus Thompson, Kenneth Thompson and Glen Thompson, all of Baltimore; a sister, Janice Roberts of Baltimore; and a granddaughter.

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