Ray Spears spent a lifetime making contributions to his community. The Lakeview High School graduate was a three-sport athlete; he served as a church pastor and a Winter Garden Rotary Club president; he worked as a contractor; and he led Winter Garden for three terms as mayor.
Raymond Glen Spears died Monday, Nov. 9, at his home in Winter Garden. He was 87.
Ray Spears was born Nov. 17, 1932, in Clio, Alabama. His parents, Howard and Thelma (Carter) Spears, moved the young family to Winter Garden when he was 5 — and although he went away for college and seminary school and lived briefly in Miami and Alabama, he considered Winter Garden home.
He attended Winter Garden public schools and was active on the football, baseball and basketball teams. After graduating from Lakeview High School in 1951, he attended Florida State University, where he met his wife, Betty, and was involved in the Baptist Student Union.
The couple married during her sophomore year of college, prior to him starting seminary school. Upon his graduation, they lived in Miami — where he pastored a church and they started a mission. He also served as a church pastor in Hartford, Alabama.
In 1973, the Spearses decided it was time to “come back home,” Betty Spears said.
The relationships Ray Spears made in Winter Garden — both personal and professional — were an important part of his life. He remained close to childhood friends, many of whom played sports with him.
“He made lots of friends,” Betty Spears said. “His best friends — he remained friends with them his whole life.”
He and his classmates were so close they gathered frequently in the private room at the Winter Garden Pizza Company; one friend traveled from Colorado to be part of the gathering. The friends had been talking about next year’s 70-year class reunion.
Ray Spears jumped into the political arena in 1975 and served two two-year terms as mayor — at a time when Winter Garden had about 8,000 residents and the city was beginning to experience changes to its downtown area. During this time, he served as chair of the city’s bicentennial committee.
He successfully ran for the mayoral position again in 1989.
“I think he was concerned about taking care of some of the things he wanted to do in the town,” Betty Spears said. “He really enjoyed being the mayor.”
Betty Spears said Election Day 1989 is memorable for another reason, too. That morning, he had a medical emergency that landed him in the emergency room and, ultimately, in coronary bypass surgery. Yet his main concern was getting updates on the election, she said.
He served one more two-year term from 1989 to 1991. In 1990, Ray Spears created a recognition program and gave the first-ever key to the city to John Rees, who was stepping down from his seat on the city commission.
Besides politics, Ray Spears served his community in other ways. He was a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Winter Garden. He was a licensed real estate broker and general building contractor and a charter member of the committee that planned the Orange County Convention Center.
He retired from full time work in 2004 following another bypass surgery but continued to work part-time for the rest of his life.
In his retirement, Ray Spears enjoyed traveling with his wife on river boat cruises. He loved his family and enjoyed visiting his children and grandchildren, as well as his large extended family. He was a Florida State Seminoles fan and had season football tickets for many years.
Religion continued to play an important role throughout Ray Spears’ life. He was a long-time member of First Baptist Church, Winter Garden; the chair of the church centennial celebration committee in 1989; and a teacher of his Sunday school class for more than 20 years.
“His church and Sunday school class were very meaningful,” Betty Spears said. “They were a lot of people we spent a lot of time with. He was very active.”
In recent months, the Spearses participated in their church virtually because of the coronavirus.
“Dad was a believer,” his son Glen Spears wrote on his Facebook page. “(We are) so grateful that he has now received his reward and is face to face with our Savior.”
In addition to his wife, Betty, he is survived by his sons and daughters-in-law, Jim and Gayle (Reid) Spears, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Glen and Joni (Hardy) Spears of Grayslake, Illinois; his brother, Gene; and his sister, Glynda; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Spears is preceded in death by his brothers, Bob, Jack, Billy and Michael.
A funeral was held Monday, Nov. 16, at First Baptist Church, Winter Garden, and was followed by a graveside service.