Turning 100 … Most memorable day of his life!

Katherine Spencer-Ross

Professor Robert Spencer celebrated his 100th birthday, COVID-style, outside his Sandringham apartment in unexpectedly fine weather on November 9.

Mr. Spencer moved from Toronto to Sandy Hill twenty-one years ago when his wife was admitted to the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre. Following her death in July 2000, he remained in Ottawa to be near his three children, all of whom had migrated here over the years, with two of them living in Sandy Hill.

Over the past two decades, Mr. Spencer has been busy, at the start writing his memoir called A European Affair, and being a frequent and regular visitor to the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library and the Library of Global Affairs Canada. An avid traveller, in his 90s he reduced his trips to Europe to one a year to visit family and friends in England and Germany. He also participated in recent Government of Canada overseas delegations to Dieppe and Normandy, and was disappointed when the pandemic caused the postponement of a trip to the Netherlands to mark its liberation in 1945.

Much closer to home, he has watched with interest local changes including the building of the Adàwe Crossing over the Rideau River, a favourite destination, and the building of the Balmoral apartment, on former green space and parking lot outside his front door. While confined to his apartment because of COVID, he has most recently kept his eye on progress on Range Road reconstruction.

With the proximity of his birthday to Remembrance Day, it is not surprising that his 100th birthday celebration had a military aspect to it. Spencer served in Northwest Europe during World War II with the Fifteenth Canadian Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery and later with the Canadian Officers Training Corps at the University of Toronto where he was a professor for thirty-six years. He was also a regular at the annual Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial until this year when the public was urged to stay away.

The birthday celebrations began with a compilation of emails, letters and videos from family, friends and colleagues, then moved outside for a visit from the Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major of 30th Field Regiment (the Bytown Gunners). They presented him with an artillery jacket and ballcap, as well as a quilt, provided by Quilts of Valour, a charitable organization that present quilts of comfort to injured or ill military members and Veterans and recognizes certain military operations including WWII. Spencer then settled into a chair outside the Sandringham front door to enjoy a loud and cheerful drive-by of family, friends and colleagues who shouted good wishes and birthday greetings from their cars, some waving a large Netherlands flag, balloons, and “100” banners. Guests were treated to individually packaged cupcakes, passed carefully through open car windows. The CBC was present as well, with reporter Hannah Thibedeau asking him his biggest memory of the last 100 years. Spencer’s answer? “Today!” cleverly avoiding making a choice among a century of rich and memorable experiences.

The Spencer family celebrated with spirit in November, receiving drive-by greetings and offering well-packaged cupcakes outside his building at the south end of Range Rd.
Photos Spencer family