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Robert Kirkwood Spencer

Robert Kirkwood Spencer, 1953

Name:  Robert Kirkwood Spencer

Date:  1953

Image Number:  1953SHS_RobertSpencer

Comments:  Robert "Bobby" Kirkwood Spencer is a man of many careers and contributions to the Scottsville community.  Bobby was born in 1935, son of Kirkwood A. Spencer (1899-1987) and Louise P. (Pitts) Spencer (1904-1987), and raised in Scottsville, VA.  Bobby graduated from Scottsville High School in 1953; he was active in dramatics, Science Club, Publications Club as its Photography editor, Commercial Club, and also attended Virginia's Boys' State to represent SHS in his Junior year in high school.  At the age of ten, Bobby also worked as an usher and ticket taker at Victory Hall.

As a child, Bobby was also interested in going into the ministry.  His parents and friends remember Bobby setting up chairs and delivering a sermon from a small table as if it was a church pulpit.   Bobby was also a very thoughtful and caring young man.  When the Korean War began in June 25, 1950, Bobby had just finished his freshman year at Scottsville High School (SHS).  Bobby began writing to Scottsville men, who had enlisted in the U.S. military services, in an effort to help these soldiers feel more in touch with their hometown as they served faraway in the Korean War.  Diane Pullaro of Esmont told us that her father, Samuel J. Boatwright (1932-2013), graduated from SHS in the spring of 1950.  Samuel then enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to a U.S. naval ship in Korean waters.  "Mr. Spencer went to high school with my Dad, and he would write to my Dad regularly and tell him all the things that went on in Scottsville.  My Dad mentioned very little about his time in Korea, but Bobby's letters were welcomed by him during his three years overseas.  It definitely made my Dad to be less homesick.   I believe Mr. Spencer wrote letters to all of the enlisted SHS students during the Korean War (June 1950-July 1953)."

Bobby was also interested in communications and developed his skills as editor of the SHS Scotty yearbook and its newspaper.  When he graduated from high school in 1953, Bobby accepted a job as the news editor for his hometown weekly, The Scottsville Sun, where he did everything from taking photos to writing a gossip column.  As Bobby describes his column, "It was the thing that people turned to first."

Bobby continued his education at the University of Richmond where he earned his degree in English.  He then continued his education at Wake Forest where he earned a Master's degree in divinity.  Bobby was ordained a Baptist minister in the summer of 1957.

In 1958, Bobby was happily surprised by an offer to join the staff at Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA), a prestigious Virginia prep school he had known about for years.  Bobby began a 31-year teaching career at FUMA where he primarily taught English but also psychology, sociology, and religious studies.  Bobby loved the Academy and has related to us that "those were the happiest years of my life."

On April 28, 2013, the FUMA Corps of Cadets staged a full-dress parade to honor Colonel Spencer for his very successful career at FUMA.  Col. Spencer is well-remembered by FUMA cadets of the 60's, 70's, and 80's.  The Corps then passed in Review to honor Col. Spencer at the steps of Hatcher Hall; see photo below of Col Spencer (at center) being introduced by RADM Burhoe at left.

Robert Spencer being introduced at FUMA parade, April 28, 2013 Bobby Spencer being honored for his service at FUMA with a parade on April 28, 2013

Bobby's long, distinguished career in education had simultaneous co-avocations as minister, guidance counselor, journalist, entertainer, civic activist, and public servant.  Bobby is a member of the Scottsville Baptist Church and wrote a history of this church which appears on their web site; see:
Bobby has occasionally served as an interim pastor for local churches, too, and has performed several wedding services.

Bobby also excels in another career, magic!  To learn more about his magical career, please read the following excerpt from Candace Krevansky's June 2001 article entitled, "Bobby Spencer: Many Faces, Many Careers:":

Bobby's interest in magic came in the third grade when he saw a magician perform at the Scottsville School assembly.  "I became hooked on sleight-of-hand tricks and other illusions.  From that day on I said, 'That is something I want to be.'"

When he was nine, Bobby made his dream a reality and began performing magic on stage under the name, Kirkwood The Magician, which he derived from his middle name.

"It's not only a great hobby," he says, "but you can turn it into a semiprofessional or professional career."
Bobby Spencer Performing Magic for Scottsville HS Class of 1967 Bobby Spencer (center) performing magic for the Class of 1967 at Scottsville High School

Unlike most magicians, who have mentors, Spencer learned about prestidigitation by reading everything he could on the subject.  Later on, he discovered Blackstone Magician comic books, based on the life of Harry Blackstone, the #1 magician in America in the 1940's.

Poster advertising Kirkwood the Magician's shows, ca. 1970's
A poster advertising Kirkwood the Magician's magic shows in the 1970's.

Spencer also was fortunate to meet "some of the great magicians of the golden age" like the Great Blackstone, J.B. Bobo, and Paul Flemming.  As late as the early 2000's, Bobby was still performing occasionally, going to magic shows, and enjoying the camaraderie of contemporary magicians like David Copperfield and Dough Henning.

"I don't think my parents ever thought I would be a magician but they gave me a middle name that worked out well as a stage name."

Spencer also had the privilege of working with renowned hypnotist, Dr. Franz Polgar, who largely performed in colleges, universities, and resorts.  One of Dr. Polgar's shows consisted of three parts: hypnosis demonstration, a mentalism or "mind reading" stunt where he would use Hellstromism to find an object hidden by his audience, and various memory stunts.
Dr. Franz Polgar is welcomed by FUMA faculty member, Col. Robert Spencer, ca. 1975
Col. Bobby Spencer welcomed Dr. Franz Polgar onto the FUMA stage to began his hypnotism show, ca. 1975.

On October 22, 2011, Bobby celebrated 65 years of his magic career by presenting two performances of "Artful Deception,"  his 65th anniversary show at Victory Theater in Scottsville.  The cast included Bobby, plus newcomers to magic along with accomplished magicians.

Spencer admits that he has had more careers than most.  "I told my students I was a confused person simply because I couldn't decide which of these things I wanted to do."  But he has enjoyed them all.

Now he is passing the tricks of at least one trade on to his prot�g�, Jimmy Miller, a former UVA basketball player.  Spencer calls Miller "an outstanding magician," and says he will "pass on all of his magical equipment" to Miller when the time comes.  For now, he continues to perform his magic for special occasions.  Despite the fact that Spencer never married or had children, he has no regrets.  "I actually feel that I have lived several lifetimes simply because I have followed so many interests and professions."  And only tomorrow will tell what Spencer might do next.

Virginia Moore and Bobby Spencer at Scottsville Museum on its 10th anniversary, 4 July 1980

In 1969, Bobby cofounded Scottsville Museum with Virginia Moore, Raymon Thacker, and Robert Walls.  Bobby is shown at left with Virginia Moore on the steps of Scottsville Museum during its 10-year anniversary celebration on July 04, 1980. 

Since the Museum's beginning, Bobby has also served faithfully as a volunteer and trustee at the Museum.  Below is a photo of Bobby greeting visitors at the Museum during its Spring Opening on 05 April 2003.

Robert Spencer greeting a visitor to Scottsville Museum at its Spring Opening on  April 05, 2005
Robert Spencer greeting a visitor to Scottsville Museum at its Spring Opening on April 05, 2003

Bobby also served as Mayor of Scottsville, Virginia, from 1996-1998.

In 2020, Robert Kirkwood Spencer resided in Charlottesville, VA, and Scottsville Museum honors Bobby as an emeritus member of our Board of Trustees.  Bobby is always in our thoughts, and we thank him for all of his contributions to Scottsville Museum and to Scottsville!

On May 28, 2020, Bobby Spencer passed away at Morningside of Charlottesville, Virginia.  Following is Bobby's obituary as provided by Thacker Brothers Funeral Home in Scottsville, VA:

Obituary:  Robert "Bobby" Kirkwood Spencer
October 30, 1935 - May 28, 2020

Robert Kirkwood "Bobby" Spencer, 84, retired educator, minister, entertainer, and historian of Scottsville, passed away on Thursday, May 28, 2020 at Morningside of Charlottesville.

A lifelong resident of Scottsville, he was born on October 30, 1935, the son of the late Kirkwood Alexander Spencer and Louise (Pitts) Spencer.

He was a former Scottsville Town Councilman and Mayor and in 1994, had served as Chair of the Celebration Committee for the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of Scottsville and Albemarle County.  Active in many civic affairs, he received the 2004 A. Raymon Thacker Citizen of the Year Award from the Scottsville Chamber of Commerce.

Prior to his retirement in 1992, Bobby had served 34 years on the staff of Fork Union Military Academy where he was Chairman of the English Department and was Special Services Officer.  He also taught Sociology, Journalism, Public Speaking, and Drama.  An ordained Baptist minister, he had served numerous churches in Central Virginia as an interim and guest minister.

An actor and entertainer from an early age, he was widely known to several generations as "The Amazing Kirkwood" or "Kirkwood the Magician" and was a noted show producer and Master of Ceremonies for civic and charitable organization fundraisers.  During the 1950's through the 1970's, Bobby took his magic show's "Adventures in Amazement," "Artful Deception," and "Magic with a Message" to county fairs, rural schools, churches, community centers and small town theatres throughout the southeast.

For Scottsville's celebration of the US Bicentennial in 1976, Spencer produced and directed the outdoor pageant "Of Town and the River," which told the history of Scottsville on the James with a local cast of characters of over 100.  In 1982, he was one of the first magicians on the East Coast to volunteer to participate in "David Copperfield's Project Magic," a program using simple magic effects to help physical therapists in rehabilitation of patients with cognitive and motor skill disabilities.

He was founder and first President of the Horseshoe Bend Players, a community amateur theatre group and in recent years, had headed the project of remodeling and reopening the historic Victory Hall Theatre in Scottsville.  He was a founder and First President of the Scottsville Council for the Arts and Nature (SCAN) and had donated land to be used for the Sunnyside Music, Arts, and Nature Center.

As a journalist and historian, Spencer contributed articles to numerous newspapers and magazines and formerly wrote a nostalgia column, "A Time to Remember."  He served on the Board of Trustees of the Scottsville Museum and Historic Landmarks and was a longtime President of the Board.  He was a historian of Scottsville Baptist Church, his home church, and was a member of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.  Recently, he had published a book on the life and legacy of a prominent 20th century magician, and he was working on another about the "unforgettable characters" of Scottsville's past.  He was continuing to compile and edit previously written material for two other books to be entitled "A Time to Remember" and "Horseshoe Bend Memoirs."

Spencer was a proud graduate of Scottsville High School and held degrees from the Universities of Richmond and Virginia and also studied at the Southeastern Theological Seminary in North Carolina.  In 1990, he was recognized as "Outstanding Teacher" by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools.  He had been a member of Phi Delta Kappa Professional Education Fraternity and the American Mental Health Counselors Association.  Other memberships include the Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians Order of Merlin, the Scottsville Lions Club, the Scottsville Senior Skippers, the American Mentalists Association, and the Parapsychology Foundation.

Survivors include two first cousins: William R. "Billy" Pitts, Jr. and his wife, Ellen, and Edward P. "Pat" Pitts and his wife, Baxter, all of Scottsville; special friends: Shane and Kirsten Thomas and their daughter, Sydney, and Cenie Re Moon Sturm and her husband, Everette, all of Scottsville; devoted friends and magic prot�g�s: James F. Miller of Charlottesville and Ian Browning of Scottsville; and a host of other friends throughout the area.

A private family graveside service will be conducted at the Scottsville Cemetery.  A memorial service celebrating Bobby's life will be held at a later date once everyone can safely gather together.

Those desiring may pay their respects between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at Thacker Brothers' Scottsville Funeral Home.  Due to current COVID-19 guidelines and state mandates, the use of face masks and practicing social distancing will be required.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Scottsville Baptist Church Cemetery Fund, PO Box 100, Scottsville, Virginia 24590.

Salute to Robert Kirkwood Spencer
by Nancy Gill
Scottsville Center for Arts and Nature (SCAN) and Former Mayor of Scottsville, VA

Bobby Spencer, a significant contributor to our community and organization died on Thursday, May 28, 2020.  Nancy Gill honors Bobby in her words:  "There are individuals we meet in our life journeys that make an indelible impression.  Bobby Spencer was one. SCAN shall always be grateful for his gift of the 13 acres on Hardware Street in Scottsville, which he wanted to remain an open green space with native plantings.  He will be remembered for his magic shows at Victory Hall Theater.  He will be remembered for singing at the Friday night jam sessions.  He will be remembered for waltzing with Myrtle Wyland to the Tennessee Waltz.  Bobby gave much to SCAN and the Town of Scottsville.  He will be deeply missed.  He will be remembered."

Salute to Robert Kirkwood Spencer (1935-2020)
by Evelyn Edson
President, Scottsville Museum
Friday, May 31, 2020

Today we devote our Museum news to the passing of Robert K. Spencer, a lifelong resident of Scottsville and a loyal member of the Scottsville Museum Board.  Today I also want to add a few personal memories of Bobby.

Bobby was a gifted and dynamic theater director.  In December 1986, he directed Earl Hamner's "The Homecoming" in the auditorium of the old Scottsville High School.  The cast was recruited locally, including my two children.  Ben, who was nine, had a non-speaking part in the cast of numerous Spencer children, and Meredith played a sulky teenager.  Janet Stargell was Mrs. Spencer, and her daughter, Jenna, age 5, was the youngest person in the cast.  The Reverend Maynard Jones and the Union Branch Baptist Church of Arvonia put on an inspiring Christmas pageant, while comic relief was provided by Eula Woody and Dot Jetton and "their recipe," an essential ingredient in fruit cake.  The story is set on Christmas Eve, when the oldest son is sent out to find his father, who has not yet returned home.  In his quest, he visits people and tours places well known to the local audience.  Bobby often recalled this production with fondness, as do I.  This was the first production of the Horseshoe Bend Players of Scottsville, which subsequently put on a number of successful plays, including a revival of "Homecoming" in 1996 with many of the same actors.  Thanks to Janet Stargell for helping me with these reminiscences.

I was fortunate to attend Bobby's 65th anniversary performance as a magician in 2011.  He had become interested in magic as a young boy, and through the years had honed his skills.  He was particularly outstanding for his dramatic flair and commanding stage presences.  The audience that evening gasped and laughed as he worked his way through his repertory, accompanied by several of his magic students.  It was a night to remember!

Bobby died on Thursday, May 26, 2020.  Those wishing to pay their respects may visit Thacker Brothers Funeral Home on Tuesday, June 2, between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm.  A memorial service will be held at some future date.

Copyright © 2020 by Scottsville Museum

Top Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CD RS16
This photo was contained in the 1953 Scottsville High School Scotty and provided courtesy of Scottsville Museum.

Second Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CD RS16

Third Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDRS16

Fourth Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDRS16

Fifth Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDRS16

Sixth Image Located On"  Capturing Our Heritage, CDRS15

Seventh Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDCG2003

Eighth Image Provided by Thacker Brothers Funeral Home, Scottsville, VA; see:

1.  Pat and Baxter Pitts, Evelyn Edson, and Ruth Klippstein, Scottsville, VA.
2.  Diane Pullaro, Esmont, VA.
3.  Gwynne Daye, Crozet, VA.
4. .
5.  Commonwealth of Virginia - Certificate of Death, Kirkwood Alexander Spencer, Feb. 14, 1899; Virginia Department of Health; Richmond, VA; Virginia Deaths, 1912-2014.
6.  Candace Krevansky, "Bobby Spencer: Many Faces, Many Careers", July 2001.
7.  Call To Fork Union Military Academy, Alumni Magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 1, September 2007.
8.  "Celebrating 65 Years of Magic, Kirkwood the Magician Celebrates 65 Years", Rural Virginian, Oct. 19, 2011.
9.  "Scottsville Journal: After 3 Decades, a Local Legend Loses an Election" by Mike Allen, NY Times, May 25, 1996, Section 1, Page 8.



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