2018-02-11 / News

Alex Petrie with Theresa Spencer

Spencer’s optimism, buoyancy compliment her ‘personal drive’

There’s something familiar about Theresa Spencer. Strikingly so. I remember having that feeling the first time I interviewed her.

It was for an article detailing the recount which would determine the outcome of marijuana decriminalization within the City of Lapeer. She’s the county clerk, and was in charge of overseeing the recount and all that it entailed, which would probably not be the highlight of most people’s week. Especially because it represented a formidable amount of extra work. But she seemed positively thrilled. Almost like she couldn’t wait to see how the whole thing would play out, like it was exhilarating to see government wheels in motion. And, as I questioned her at the time, I couldn’t help but feel that we’d met at some point, that I somehow knew her from long before.

She’s a very young 63, with an energy far exceeding the average sexagenarian. Her eyes still retain a youthful enthusiasm and zeal. She seems to enjoy everything about her job, and I should emphasize that her delight in her occupation always seems wholly sincere, as if being the county clerk were her lifelong dream.

“What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always have an interest in local government?” I asked shortly after we sat down at Tim Hortons.

“Really, when I first started out, I wanted to be a lawyer,” she explained. “Well, you’re probably too young, but Perry Mason would be on TV, right? And he was just the man of justice. And it was just so intriguing, and I didn’t know any lawyers, so I didn’t know what it really all meant, but it was very intriguing. But, instead, I got to work for a lawyer. It was from ’72 to ’87. It was a really incredible opportunity.”

She speaks very quickly, in rapid bursts of what could be described as machine gun wordspray. But she’s very articulate and concise. It’s as if she’s thinking of what she’s going to say after she’s already begun speaking. But it all matters, it’s not simply nervous chitchat. When she’s talking about her job, her voice will take on a more serious tone, and as soon as the conversation turns more personal, she seems to lighten and take great joy in casual repartee.

She has two adult children, Alicia and Josh, with her husband, H. Paul Spencer. (“He goes by Henry more often now that he’s all grown up,” she said with a laugh.) Her family is a source of great joy and her speech patterns prove it. Stories were punctuated with laughter and a lighter, easier tone. She told me about a particularly eventful trip with her husband through Canada, which involved a car accident and a series of unfortunate events, and as she’d land on the punchlines throughout the story, she’d seem almost surprised by herself or her words, and light up with laughter.

I was fully aware of it before our meeting, but as our conversation went on it became more and more obvious how intelligent Theresa is. She has a significant amount of education, but it’s not just her IQ that stands out. Her emotional quotient, how she relates to people and sizes up the mood of the discussion, is also noticeably elevated. Also, speech and hand gestures are a surefire signifier of intellect, and she commissions both in the delivery of her thoughts with eloquence and grace.

That’s another thing. She’s as graceful as they come. And not in a snooty or contrived way. She has the ability to shift back and forth between the high and the low with confidence and ease. She wouldn’t look out of place in court or having a beer. And the way she handled my questions about the current turbulence within the Lapeer County Courthouse was nothing short of noteworthy.

“I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that things have gotten a little tense in your world within the last couple years. How do you handle that?”

“Lawsuits?” she asked knowingly.

“Sure, let’s start there.”

“Well, as clerk of the court, myself and my staff are responsible for taking filings, and treating all parties consistently,” she said in a professional tone. “And I have people come to me and say this or that, and I’m in the building, but I can honestly say I don’t know what they’re talking about most of the time. Basically, I can say that we’re doing the best we can, given the controversies that exist.”

She didn’t let on so much as a hint of exasperation or even mild inconvenience. She danced around it without even looking like she was dancing, and I feel like that seems to be how she handles most things. The best way for me to describe Theresa Spencer is to say that she takes her duties very seriously, whether that be her occupation, her schooling, her marriage or her children. But she does not take herself seriously. I’m finding as I grow older that this is one of the most attractive and elusive qualities of mankind. It’s very difficult to find people that know how to balance the two without looking like they’re trying.

“What would you say it is that drives you?” I asked.

“That is an excellent question,” she said. “One time, years ago, somebody said, ‘You look like somebody’s pushing you,’ and I don’t know, there are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many things I want to do. I always think I can do better, so I guess it’s just a personal drive, a personal work ethic. But I don’t know why I’m like this! I don’t know what happened.”

She laughed, but she also captured it perfectly. It’s as if she has an invisible force propelling her through all of the ennui and tedium of everyday life, which makes it possible for her to keep a smile and some optimism in her pocket.

As we wrapped up the interview, she asked me a few times if she was keeping me or boring me or otherwise inconveniencing me. I laughed and said, “Not at all. I’m having a great time talking with you,” thinking about how smooth and familiar the conversation felt.

“Okay, good,” she said, “because I’m having so much fun. I’m just talking to you like you’re one of my girlfriends!”

We both laughed, and I took it as a compliment, (however emasculating it may have been), because I knew that’s how she meant it. After getting to know her and all that she’s accomplished, all that she does on a regular basis, and the buoyancy she’s able to sustain, I’d be proud to be one of Theresa Spencer’s girlfriends.

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