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James McKinley Spencer Sr. dead; Vietnam veteran was 73

James McKinley Spencer Sr. in his Army uniform

James McKinley Spencer Sr. in his Army uniform in the mid-1960s. Credit: Courtesy Spencer family

Nancy Holliday said her late brother-in-law, James McKinley Spencer Sr., always looked out for others, whether he knew them or not.

She recalled how when the two were at a supermarket one day, he overheard the customer ahead of him say he didn’t have enough money to pay for groceries.

“He gave the cashier $10 and said to give the change back to the man who didn’t have enough money for food,” recalled Holliday, a member of the Wyandanch Union Free School District board.

Spencer Sr., 73, of Copiague, died on Feb. 11 after a yearslong battle with multiple myeloma that doctors attributed to the long-term effects of the herbicide Agent Orange, his son, James Spencer Jr., said.

James Spencer Sr. was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Army in Vietnam from 1964 to 1966, Spencer Jr. said.

Spencer Sr. was born Dec. 28, 1942, and grew up in Columbia, North Carolina. After graduating high school, he moved to Long Island to join his mother, Fannie Billups Spencer, who had migrated to the Island to work as a housekeeper.

Stennie Basnight, 68, of Westbury, who knew Spencer Sr. in Columbia, said people there knew him as “Big James” because of his tall frame.

“He was a gentleman,” Basnight said. “He treated people nicely and was very respectful.”

Spencer Sr. worked as a detailer at Sarant Cadillac in Farmingdale for 26 years, until his illness caused him to retire in 2008.

“He was very talented in his field,” said Joe Mistretta, 54, a service adviser at Sarant who knew Spencer for years. “He had a ferocious appetite to get the job done, and to get it done well.”

“Jimmy,” as Spencer Sr.’s co-workers, friends and family often called him, always had a smile and “he’d always do his best to bring you up when everything looked like it would be a rough day,” Mistretta said.

Spencer Sr. loved his job and was crushed when his inability to walk on his own led him to leave it, said his widow, Sandra Holliday Spencer, 69, who married Spencer in 1968.

Holliday Spencer said her husband is “up there looking down at us laughing. He’s not hurting anymore. He’s with God now.”

James Spencer Jr. said his father passed on to him a strong work ethic, a belief in God, a love of country, and the importance of family.

Spencer Jr. said his dad never said whether he supported the Vietnam War.

“He said it wasn’t for him to judge,” Spencer Jr. said. “He just told me he served his country and did the best that he could.”

Spencer Sr. is survived by Holliday Spencer; Spencer Jr.; son, Koron; daughter, Aisha; grandchildren; Cordan and Cayla; and a number of nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws.

Burial was Feb. 22 at Calverton National Cemetery.

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