Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Wizard of Spence

The good folks over at ENC DTV have gone from reeling through ancient VHS tapes to pilfering back-issues of TV Guide. That’s what I call a hobby! Still, they’re not peeling apart old pages in vain. The images they’ve unearthed have flooded my cortex with warm fuzzy memories from days long past. Here’s one now…

Why, it’s the eminent John Spence. As a kid I watched this master broadcaster on the local noon news. He’d be there on the living room set, hunched over the news desk and dolling out swine futures in his signature baritone. I ate many a PBJ to the sound of that man’s voice, but as I sat there and chewed a succession of sandwiches I had no idea I’d one day come to meet him, let alone learn from his wizardly ways.

Yet I did, when years later I stumbled into my first TV station and met an aging rat pack of local news legends. Among them were Slim Short, Jim Woods and John Spence - esteemed gentlemen all who’d spent a lifetime defining Eastern North Carolina TV news. Despite the fact I was a raging punk-ass at the time, I was smart enough to learn from these pioneers, especially Mr. Spence. There he’d sit in his corner cubicle, pounding out tobacco prices on the ricketiest of typewriters while a flurry of co-workers young enough to be his grandkids played TV all around him.

I was one of those snot-nosed kids. But through early mentor Thomas Cormier I got to know this Founding Father of Farm News quite well - even accompanying him on a shoot or two, or three…or thirty. From the warehouse floor to the cotton patch, Mr. Spence cast off casual bons mots that served as the very cornerstones for my on-the-job edumacation. Better yet, he did it with a twinkle in his oracle’s eye.

For example, somewhere in my collection of deteriorating bloopers, I have footage of John standing in the middle of a field in a checkered shirt with a rake in his hand. He looks like the farmer granddad you always wished you had - until he opens his mouth and in a most stately Southern accent inquires…

“Are you ready yet…asshole?”

I must rescue this treasured relic, because it is truly a message of love from a gentlemen who served as an erstwhile Yoda during my early TV Jedi training. Even more so, it was the sage Mr. Spence who insisted I keep on writing back when I wasn’t sure I had any business lining up words in a row. For that I’m intensely grateful. These days, John is enjoying the fruits of his labor at his Ayden compound, overseeing a flock of animals and a cast of characters that make up his masterwork of gracious southern retirement. For me though, he’ll always be that avuncular presence on the mid-seventies TV screen, that cranky prophet who’d already forgotten more than I still know, that gentle voice in my e-mail inbox, telling me to stop pondering and start producing. Here‘s to you, Mr. Spence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too worked with John Spence many years ago and had pretty much the same experience.

I was recently saddened to learn that he and his life partner have been indicted by a North Carolina grand jury for taking indecent liberties with a minor. Their trial date has not been set, but is planned for 2006.

John still lives in Ayden and the story of his arrest is printed in the Greenville Daily Reflector.