It was just a few months ago that I decided to check my hometown newspaper online to see what was happening. Much to my chagrin I saw a headline “Remembering Spencer McLaughlin.” I’ve known Spencer since high school, and I knew he was a respected politician in my home county in New York.
I didn’t like the import of that listed entry. Upon further checking, I found his obituary and other articles praising and remembering him. I was shocked and saddened. My old friend was gone, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. His bout with pancreatic cancer was surprising, as I hadn't known he was so ill.
We all knew Spencer [or Mike as we knew him then] had great personal and leadership qualities since we first met him in 1959. He was a person who drew admiration from everyone, and I was proud to be among his closer friends for the four years of high school and beyond. It isn’t often that one get’s the opportunity to meet and cherish a good friend, especially one with such natural intelligence and humor. He was among the top few in our class academically every reporting period. Spencer was always there with a kind word, a needed correction, or a great idea for a practical joke.
Indeed, most of our high school antics were done with the cooperation and approval of Spencer---if not at his instigation. He and Dick seemed to be the origin of most of our fun activities. But if Spencer said no, then we didn’t do it, no matter who had the idea. And yes, a few of his ideas were vetoed---but not often. No one else had such quiet and effective power among us, even before his year as school president.
In senior year, he and Carol won handily over Paul and Evelyn to serve as President and Vice President of the Student Council. He spoke and led his school mates extremely well [at least as much as he could in a Catholic school], and I can’t imagine anyone else being in his position. He was Spencer, he was our leader, and he was the school President. It was all very natural.
Even after high school, most of us looked to him for leadership and approval.
During our college years, we often met on a Saturday night at a Middletown pool hall, Vince Dino’s bar, or a Warwick watering hole [the Landmark Inn] to have a few beers, reminisce and play buzz. He made sure that none of us drank to excess, and with his assistance we usually had a great time.
We had one New Year’s Eve party at the Inn one year, in the banquet room with all the doors on the ceiling. It was a rare day of celebration together for all of us after high school. It was my last date with one of my favorite high school loves.
During high school, Spencer had a complexion problem, but neither he nor anyone else ever made anything of it. For the most part, we all ignored it. It was a very minor defect that we didn’t care about. But he had a sense of humor about the reality. One time when we were discussing a costume party, he laughingly thought he might pour a jar of mayonnaise over his head and go as a busted pimple. Rather gross to be sure, but only he could have put over such an absurd suggestion.
His participation in the [pre PC era] senior year slave auction was done with good humor and sincerity. He really was going to go through with it to the end and serve the buyer as well as he could. Without him sharing the auction block with our fellow Science-Fiction aficionado, Rich, I doubt if the latter would have participated with such enthusiasm. And his purchase by the Junior boys was a difficult result to follow through on. They were well-known as being anti-Spencer to the core. For some unknown reason, they used him sparingly and with a grudging respect. So he and Rich served their time rather easily.
I can still picture Spencer looking scholarly during our pipe smoking fad in Senior year; his instigation---during the Senior will reading---to have me carried across the gym to a freshman girl I had been sweet on; his active participation and co-editing of our school newspaper, including our major all-humor effort; his surreptitious tidbit in one issue about my newest girl friend; our scaling the “super tough”, hundred foot high Sugar Loaf Mountain; our forest walks---especially one where I met a young girl in the woods and was too occupied to remember our rendezvous at the car - Spencer’s voice carried well in the deep woods; his effective acting abilities and behind the scenes clowning during our marvelous and inspirational senior-class play, Charley’s Aunt, where Spencer and me and Dick played the leading male parts---and even sang "Once In Love With Amy" together with comic effectiveness. [Notice how he always seemed around when I was courting someone?]
Dick and I cut a penny in half with a hacksaw so that I could hand it to Spencer on stage when he asked my character for a ha’penny. He thought it hilarious and with some difficulty he managed to get through his lines. It served him right. He had whispered a joke in my ear the night before trying to break me up during an onstage conversation.
After the play and our all-night stag celebration party, I believe it was his idea for the group of us to go to a classmate's home and join the family [obviously uninvited] for breakfast. As Spencer wrote later, our trip was more attuned to seeing the vision of the two young sisters coming down to breakfast in nightgowns and robes than it was for the surprise effect on the family or our desire for a big breakfast. We were always amazed that the farmer/father, Jacob, didn’t take a shotgun to us when he came out the front door at 5 am and saw a car full of us “hoodlums” sitting in his driveway---or even after we ate in the kitchen and surreptitiously ogled Joanne and Marie for that matter.
Spencer was always looking out for my love-life with either active help or helpful wisecracks. I spent a lot of time at Round Lake with him during high school, and I remember especially one Summer day at the lake with him, his sister Daphne, and our friend Evelyn. As I remember, I was sweet on Evelyn at the time---the same as our close friend, Rich---and the four of us spent a pleasant day of doing virtually nothing but swimming and sunburning. I remember climbing a nearby tree to take a picture of our group, making sure Evelyn was in center focus.
And after high school when I was perhaps pressing Evelyn a bit more than I should have, it was to Spencer she went with a plea to act as intermediary to get me to back off. He didn’t bandy words, although he was quiet, friendly and nonchalant. A few comments from him were all that was needed to wake me up.
Spencer’s occasional reminder of my English prize in school as being the only senior year award he didn’t win was always a pleasurable experience. Few of us ever topped him in anything. In fact, our group dinner in Chester while planning our 25th year class reunion, was one of the rare times I could make a funny put-down remark about Spencer that he couldn’t answer. That was the one and only time before or after high school that I rendered him speechless.
I can't comment on his lengthy professional life because I lived too far away to keep tabs on it. [He went back to school and became a lawyer without my knowledge or permission.] But if his high school intelligence and demeanor mean anything, he did a fine job. And that's been confirmed by the kudos in the newspapers. [And it seems, his widow Vickie has now become the front-runner in competing for Spencer's spot in the County legislature.]
In my life there never was and never will be another person as prominent in my esteem, friendship and memories of the past. He was...just…well, Spencer, our class President, and a close and valuable friend. May he rest in peace and relish his reward.