After decades of service to Cornell as a librarian, instructor and mentor, Caroline F. Spicer died last Saturday at the Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home in Ithaca. She was 87.
Born on Dec. 9, 1930, in Brooklyn, NY, Spicer earned her B.A. in English from Brooklyn College in 1953 and went on to earn two M.S. degrees in Library Service and Japanese Literature from Columbia University in 1957 and 1958 respectively.
According to her close friend Wies Van Leuken, Spicer managed to earn both degrees while supporting her ailing mother, who was afflicted with polio. Her father died when she was just 15.
She married the late Howard Spicer in 1959 and they moved to Ithaca in 1961. Spicer began her career as a Cornell librarian in Olin Library and the Asia Collections in the Carl A. Kroch Library.
Spicer was recognized for her dedicated research support in several books, including “The Cue for Passion: Grief and Its Political Uses” by Gail Holst-Warhaft, “This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia” by Thomas Cushman and Stjepan Mestrovic and “The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls” by Joan Jacobs Brumberg.
Spicer also served on an early University committee on affirmative action and headed a program to mentor minority-group librarians. She worked at Olin Library for almost 40 years before retiring in 2000.
Spicer also spent 20 years in the Cornell International Folk Dancing group and continued to dance well into her 80s. Van Leuken, another European Dance enthusiast, met Spicer though the group and the two became close friends.
“She was open-minded, generous and a lifelong learner,” Van Leuken told The Sun. Recalling Spicer’s work as an advocate during the Bosnian War in the late 1990s, she said, “you couldn’t shock her, and she had a soft spot for victims, especially children.”
Prof. Wayles Browne, linguistics, served with Spicer on the Bosnia Coordinating Committee, an aid group working during the Bosnian War. Browne remembered Spicer for her aid work, dancing skill and affinity for Balkan culture.
In many European dances, “you might have seven beats to a measure, or nine beats to a measure, so it’s very difficult to learn the steps,” Browne said. “But Caroline was very good at that, and she could drum to it.”
In addition to her knowledge of folk dance, Spicer played the tapan, a drum used in Balkan folk music, and studied languages of the Balkan region. In her last years working at Cornell in 2000 and 2001, Spicer also taught survey classes on the Balkans along with Browne and Prof. John Weiss, history.
Spicer devoted time to advocacy with the Students Against Genocide Coalition, opposing violence in Bosnia, and even took part in a 1995 protest at the White House, in which protesters were arrested for occupying a restricted area.
“It’s important for me to bear witness. I remember being a kid during the Second World War and hearing [about] the concentration camps,” Spicer said, quoted in her obituary from the Lansing Funeral Home. “I wouldn’t have believed then that in my lifetime I would be going to jail because some people were being persecuted in the same way.”
Spicer was also active in the Finger Lakes Land Trust and the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. The Ithaca Land Trust works to create public nature preserves and help landowners to conserve their properties, while the Community Foundation provides funds and support to various local philanthropies.
According to Brown, Spicer was relieved to find a new home for her closest companion, her cat Mindy, who was adopted by a fellow resident at Brookdale Ithaca before she passed away.
Spicer wished to donate her body to science after her death, participating in the Anatomical Gift Program at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse to contribute to medical learning.