College dedicates board room to longtime supporter

Published on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 19:36 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA eguevara@tylerpaper.com

The University of Texas at Tyler dedicated the Ralph Spence Board Room and Gallery, which will be located in the future alumni center.

The university is in the process of finalizing plans for the center and raising funds for its construction.

But they know for certain that the building’s single largest room, planned for the first floor, will be named after the late Spence.

“We intend for this building to be an icon, very much like the others on campus,” UT Tyler President Dr. Rod Mabry said.

On Tuesday, Mabry recognized the generosity of Mary John Spence and her late husband who consistently have contributed to the school over the years.

Their donations have funded scholarships, professorships and endowed chair positions along with the Spence Fountain and Plaza in front of the R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Since her husband’s death, Mrs. Spence has continued to serve and contribute to the university.

When she learned about the alumni center and its role in fundraising, she thought it appropriate to name the board room after the Development Board’s founding chairman, Ralph Spence. And the university officials agreed.

Mabry said the Spences exemplify the spirit of philanthropy.

State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said it is a blessing for this community to have people like the Spences who contribute so much.

Eltife recalled the kindness Spence afforded him when he was a child trick-or-treating at his house and a high school student soliciting a donation for a school-related trip.

“He could not have been nicer or kinder …” he said. “The kindness they showed was incredible.”

As a state senator, Eltife said Mrs. Spence has mailed him clippings of articles about his work and included an encouraging note.

“To all the Spence family, thank you for what you’ve given to the community,” he said. “We will never forget, ever, what you’ve done for (Tyler).”

The Rev. M.L. Agnew said Spence’s influence went beyond this community. He served the state and nation through roles in the Episcopal Church.

Mabry presented a plaque to Mrs. Spence that included information about her husband’s life and is similar to what will be on display at the alumni center. They also presented her with flowers.

Mabry said the opening of the facility is about a year away.

“That’s wonderful,” Mrs. Spence said. “Thank you.”

Spence’s son, Ralph Spence Jr., who along with his wife, Tancy, and sister, Louise Griffeth, attended the event, said it’s amazing to return to Tyler and see the growth of the city and area.

“Tyler is a dynamic city, and I feel my father’s spirit at this campus, where he dedicated so much time and energy,” Spence Jr. said.

He said it had been a pleasure discussing the project with the university and hearing the joy in his mother’s voice when she talks about it.

Spence Jr. said his father took so much pride in his connections with UT — he served on five development boards within the UT system — and his mother has been an inspiration with her energy and joy.

“Together, they have provided an example to so many with their dedication to church, family and community,” he said.