Obituary: W. Paul Spencer / Phipps Conservatory board member and longtime volunteer

May 17, 1919 - Aug.1, 2014

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W. Paul Spencer was a veteran in all senses of the word: of the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, and as a longtime employee of Eastern Gas & Fuel Associates, where he worked for 40 years.

But his most longstanding contribution, his friends say, was as a volunteer who used his deep knowledge and love of plants to beautify Pittsburgh — from its venerable gardening organizations to his own church.

“He had a way with flowers that was just remarkable,” said Edith “Toto” Fisher of Mr. Spencer, of Shadyside, who died at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital of heart failure. He was 95.

Mrs. Fisher, one of Pittsburgh’s most prominent art patrons and collectors, served with Mr. Spencer on the board of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden Center. He also made her Christmas wreaths every year, said Mrs. Fisher, of Squirrel Hill.

“I don’t know how he did it, but he used greens and flowers so imaginatively and with such good taste. But more importantly, he was a gentleman, the kindest, most considerate person you’d want to meet. I just loved him,” she said.

A master gardener and life member of the Western Pennsylvania Orchid Society, Mr. Spencer tirelessly worked behind the scenes at flower shows and at the Phipps Garden Center in Shadyside. In fact, he was still working at the garden center at age 95, up until he went into the hospital for a final stay.

“He was a great friend to the Phipps,” said Richard Piacentini, executive director of the conservatory, noting that Mr. Spencer was extremely talented at flower arranging. “He was involved here for many, many years before I arrived, and I’ve been here two decades,” he said.

A native of Irwin, Mr. Spencer graduated from Norwin High School in 1937 and served with the 50th Air Service Squadron during World War II. After four decades, he retired from Eastern Gas & Fuel Associates as vice president of purchasing.

He was also a volunteer at the Animal Rescue League and a member of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Shadyside, where he planted a dogwood bush, hundreds of daffodil bulbs, lilies and other plants on the grounds.

“He always made sure we had Christmas swags on the doors at Christmastime,” said Janet Grill, retired as pastor at St. Andrew after almost 25 years.

Mr. Spencer would bring the plant materials — pine boughs, berries, ribbons, “and we would all assemble them and put them on the door together.”

About a year ago, the church’s Hearts and Hands group was tying fleece quilts for Hello Bully, a pit bull rescue program. Mr. Spencer was the oldest member, said Pastor Grill, of Bloomfield, who recalled that he and the group’s youngest member — a 9-year old girl — were working together, she said. “The two of them were laughing and talking. I’ll always have that image of him in my memory.”

“Paul appreciated beauty and he brought beauty wherever he went,” she said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Sept. 13 at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 304 Morewood Ave. in Shadyside. Arrangements are being handled by William Snyder Funeral Home in Irwin.


Mackenzie Carpenter at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949


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