The town of Windermere is mourning the loss of a former mayor and Town Council member, Gene Spears, who also was a dedicated Windermere Rotarian known for his powers of persuasion. Spears died Monday, June 7, at the age of 91.
Charles Eugene Spears served on the Windermere Town Council as a council member from 1986 to 1993 and then as mayor for the next three. He was a certified public accountant and retired from Martin Marietta in 1992 as a director with 35 years of service.
Spears was born Jan. 12, 1930, in Clio, Alabama — the second of seven children — to farmers Howard and Thelma (Carter) Spears. His family moved to Winter Garden when he was in elementary school, and he attended Winter Garden public schools through his graduation from Lakeview High School in 1948. At Lakeview, he played football and baseball.
The Spears family lived on Foster Street in a small area of historic Winter Garden known locally as Pull Tight; the house remains in the family today.
He graduated from Bowling Green College of Commerce (Western Kentucky University) with an accounting degree in 1951 and Florida State University with an MBA in 1952.
He served in the United States Navy and Navy Reserve and retired as a lieutenant commander. While stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, he met his wife of 65 years, Ann Sughrue. They married in 1955 and lived in Windermere throughout their marriage and had three sons and one daughter.
Spears lived most of his life in West Orange County, where he remained active in civic events.
Fellow Windermere Rotarian Judy Black recalls his dedication to the Windermere Rotary Club.
“He was there every Tuesday morning until his wife got sick a few years ago,” she said. “He sat at the same table on Tuesday morning with the same group of guys.
“One of his main … functions in rotary was he got sponsors for all the fundraisers,” Black said. “He was a very strong member as far as being able to solicit sponsors from the community leaders to support everything we did. He raised a lot of money. He didn’t take no for an answer. … He would call on all the businesses in town and put them down for a donation for an event. … He was a very enthusiastic fundraiser.”
She remembers Spears attending every Rotary dinner and event that was held, and he always showed up with his wife.
“They were just a cute couple,” Black said. “They were such a great couple.”
Another Rotarian, Norma Sutton, said Spears contributed greatly to the club, performing the financial audits each year. He was a Paul Harris Fellow and was among the Rotary club members who celebrated the club’s 40th anniversary by building the back porch on Windermere Town Hall.
Spears also was instrumental in bringing the Windermere Little League to the town, when he and several other fathers got together and organized the program in 1971. All three of his sons played baseball there.
Spears was a longtime parishioner of Resurrection Catholic Church in Winter Garden and member of West Orange Country Club in Winter Garden.
In his retirement, he enjoyed golf, fishing, boating, traveling, attending and watching all FSU sports, and spending time with his wife and family.
“Throughout their 65 years of marriage, our parents have always been a wonderful example of love, commitment and dedication,” daughter Barbara Spears Hamre said. “My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he was caring for her for about six years.”
Spears is survived by his wife, Ann; sons, Charles of Ocoee, John and Nancy (Dougherty) of Windermere, Paul and Alicia (Ulibarri) of Orlando; daughter, Barbara and David Hamre of Windermere; his sister, Glynda; five grandchildren (Alexander, Austin, Hunter, Paige and Savannah); and one great-grandchild, William.
He is preceded in death by his brothers Bob, Raymond, Jack, Billy and Michael.
The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, June 22, at Resurrection Catholic Church, 1211 Winter Garden Vineland Road, Winter Garden. A graveside service will follow at Winter Garden Cemetery.
The family asks that memorial donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.