Local officials past and present reacted to news of this week’s death of La Cañada Flintridge City Councilman and six-time mayor Dave Spence, offering fond recollections of a man they knew as an institution, friend, mentor and true public servant.
Spence — who’d joined city staff and fellow council members last weekend for an annual municipal seminar in Indian Wells — was found unresponsive in his home late Tuesday morning and was later pronounced dead from an apparent heart attack, city officials reported. He was 80.
An outpouring of sympathy on Facebook followed, in which Spence was remembered for his 25 years of service to the City Council and his longstanding friendships with several area residents and their families. Those who’d worked directly with the former mayor on the council and in civic affairs recalled his collaborative spirit and unwavering commitment to La Cañada Flintridge.
Former City Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, who helped run Spence’s first campaign for council in 1992, said she never saw ulterior motives in the local politician, just an honest desire to serve.
“He loved what he did, and he loved helping people — what more can you ask of a person you elect?” Olhasso said Tuesday. “He was a shining example of (the attitude of) it’s not about me, it’s about what can I do to make my city better — that was Dave.”
Spence came to the council after serving four years on the city’s Public Safety Commission. He represented La Cañada on a number of national, state and regional panels, including the National League of Cities, the California Contract Cities Assn., where he served as president, and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.
His involvement with agencies such as the La Cañada Valley Water Co. Board of Directors, Los Angeles County Sanitation District, California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, Southern California Assn. of Governments and the Greater Los Angeles Vector Control District gave Spence a unique perspective of La Cañada Flintridge’s place in a wider network of cities, counties and regions and access to relationships that, again and again, benefited the city and its residents.
Former Councilman Don Voss, who served on the dais from 2006 to 2014, recalled first meeting Spence during an interview for the volunteer position of city treasurer in 2001.
“Dave really served as a mentor for me, and he involved me in a lot of things that broadened my horizons and my understanding of municipal government,” Voss recalled Wednesday. “Dave was the consummate people person. He really cared about people.”
A winning combination of charm and experience secured Spence, a retired sales representative, an unprecedented seventh term in March’s election, when he and fellow incumbent Jon Curtis nabbed the top spots among three candidates for two open seats on the council and were sworn in at a meeting last month.
Expressing his thoughts via text while traveling abroad, Curtis praised his colleague for tirelessly dedicating his life to his family and community and doing so with humor, kindness and respect.
“Dave has made such a difference in our community. He will be missed but never forgotten,” Curtis wrote.
Spence is survived by his two sons, Steve and Andy, and was preceded in death by daughter Betsy Anne and wife Alice Spence, who passed in 2013 after a long battle with dementia. The Spences met at Ohio’s Wesleyan University in the 1950s, married and moved to La Cañada in 1969. They often appeared together at community events, volunteering their time to local efforts and earning the shared distinction of “La Cañadans of the Year” in 1994.
Pat Anderson, president and chief executive of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said she first met the couple at the funeral of her own husband, the Rev. Philip Anderson, who passed in 2003. In the years that followed she came to know them both, and other council members, as her involvement with the chamber grew.
“Some people get into [politics] for the ego, and some get into it because they want to use it as a stepping stone to the next level,” she said. “But Dave had none of that. He was just in it because it was the right thing to do.”
Mayor Mike Davitt, who’d attended the weekend event in Indian Wells with Spence and other officials, said he was shocked to hear the tragic news on Tuesday, just hours after receiving an email from Spence himself.
He recalled with fondness how citizens would see Spence out in public and immediately confront him about a problem they felt needed to be addressed. They were never turned away.
“If somebody approached him about an issue, a pothole or a tree or something like that, he would always follow through and make sure that it got addressed,” Davitt said Wednesday. “Dave was truly a champion of our city.”
On Wednesday, the American flags in front of City Hall and in Memorial Park were found flying at half staff in honor of the councilman. Plans for a citywide service celebrating Spence’s life and service are pending. For information and updates, visit the city’s website at www.lcf.ca.gov.
May 17, 3:25 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from the community.
May 17, 10:45 a.m. This article was updated to include the name of a family member who preceded the councilman in death.
This article was originally published May 16 at 4:35 p.m.