James Kyle Spencer, retired banker, investor, historian, philanthropist and descendant of the founders of the city, died Sunday. He was 88.
Spencer, whose family was among the city’s oldest, served on the boards of Trust Company of Columbus, First Union National and Bank South andwas an early investor in and a board member of Aflac. He contributed greatly to Columbus State University, financing the Spencer House in Oxford, England, where CSU students study abroad and donating an impressive collection of historic maps to the university’s archives.
Born in 1926 in Columbus, Spencer attended Columbus High School and Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., before graduating from Princeton University in 1950 with a degree in political science.
Spencer Garrard, a professor at CSU and a nephew of Kyle’s remembers his uncle as a kind, generous man who loved to travel with his family.
“I spent many many summers at the beach with him and his family when I was much, much younger,” Garrard said. “He was very generous with his time with me. I was always invited to go on vacations with him. I would look after their younger kids while they would play tennis every morning when we were at the beach. It was a wonderful existence.”
Garrard also said Spencer and his wife loved traveling to Oxford, England, where he would eventually finance the purchase of a 1913 house for CSU, which it uses to house several students while they study at Oxford University.
Callie McGinnis, retired dean of the CSU Library, said Spencer was always interested in the students who spent time at the Spencer House. He supported a scholarship program for those students and every December he would host a party for them
“A lot of the students who got to go to Oxford because of him would come to the party. They really enjoyed meeting him and of course he was thrilled to meet them,” McGinnis said. “ The main thing that they would tell him is that it changed their lives. It was true because once they’d been to Oxford, their lives were changed.”
McGinnis said Spencer was very interested in the history of Columbus because his family was so much a part of the city’s past.
“I should say his families,” McGinnis said. “It’s not only the Spencers, but the Kyles, the Swifts and the Garrards. They’re all his family as well.”
In addition to financing the Spencer House, Spencer gave the school’s archives a large collection of historic maps that he’d collected over his lifetime.
“They were maps related to Georgia and the south dating back to early 1600s,” said local historian and former CSU professor John Lupold. “One of the maps was a printing of the map they used to draw the boundaries between France and Britain at the end of the French and Indian War. That map was used to draw the boundaries between the U.S and Britain.”
Lupold said the early colonial maps allow students and researchers to follow the history of the colonies “coming of age.”
“It’s a very, very significant collection and a real important addition to the CSU archives.”
Spencer was a Navy veteran of World War II and a Sunday school teacher and deacon at First Presbyterian Church. A devoted environmentalaist, he co-founded Trees Columbus and later donated the Spencer House that now houses that and other environmental organizations. He was a former president of the Historic Columbus Foundation and a member of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Arrangements are pending, according to Striffler-Hamber Mortuary.