Spencer Ross

Memorial Service

Plans for a Memorial Service will be announced at a later date.

Obituary of Spencer Ross

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Spencer Ross, aged 99, a longtime resident of Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington, died on May 17, 2023 after a long, happy, caring, and creative life.

 Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, Spence, as he was often called, was raised in Brooklyn and Highland Park, NJ. He came of age during the Great Depression and World War 2.  As a child he saw Caruso sing, and Babe Ruth hit a home run. Brilliant and talented, he played piano and won citywide yo-yo competitions. As a teenager he learned from his teachers that he had scored the highest IQ in the borough of Brooklyn.  His first car was an old Model T that he refurbished after it had been rusting in a neighbor’s yard.  At age 16, he enrolled in college early.  At Rutgers University, where he received a B.A. in Electrical Engineering, he earned varsity letters in soccer and track and he sang in the Glee Club. Because it was wartime, engineering students hurried through their courses and in early 1945 he enlisted in the Navy.  The following summer, he completed his aircraft carrier training and was on route to the Pacific Theater when the war ended.

After the war, Spence immersed himself in the flourishing arts scene in New York’s Greenwich Village where he studied with some of the most prominent photographers of that era.  His own photographs also started to gain attention and in the 1950’s U.S. Camera magazine named him one of the “young lions of photography.” His photograph, “Street Scene in Siena, Italy” received particular accolades. At that time, however, most artistic (as opposed to commercial) photographers struggled to make a living, and Spence chose a more traditional vocation, entering the corporate world.  But his first love was always photography and on every business trip he took he brought his camera along. As an international marketing executive, he traveled to over 130 countries and his photographs of street and village life in China, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, and many other locales reflect an artist who always had an eye out for natural beauty and evocative human moments.  Although a lifelong amateur, Spencer’s photographs regularly appeared in photography annuals, magazines, and newspapers, and they hung in over 100 galleries and museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the IBM Gallery.

In 1955, while skiing in Vermont, he met his beloved wife Carolyn Sue Domeier Ross, a fellow creative soul, who also lived in New York and designed books for Cambridge University Press. They married in 1957, moved into New York’s Tudor City, and then to the suburbs when their children Janet and Michael arrived.  They were married for twenty-years. Sue died in 1979.

Spencer was also proud of his corporate career. He remembered fondly his decades traveling the globe representing American companies during their golden age (“when America was number one in everything”). Over three decades, he led the international marketing divisions of GTE International, Bendix Corporation, and the Sperry Corporation. By the time he was profiled in the New York Times in 1989 for his world trade acumen, he was considered a “classic in the field.”  He chaired the New York District Export Council and served on the board of the Long Island Association, chairing its World Trade Council. He also served as president of the National Institute for World Trade, a consulting organization he founded in 1986.

After he was widowed, Spence met Annabel Caner at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington. Annabel shared Spence’s interests in the arts, ideas, travel, and giving back to the community. They became devoted partners for over 40 years.

Spence was an avid rower and served for many years as the Commodore of Long Island’s Sagamore Rowing Association. He continued to row and compete in singles and in quads into his nineties.  He noted wryly that at regattas later in life he often finished first because he was the only entrant in his age group.

Spence will also be remembered for his kindness, his beautiful penmanship, his attentiveness to friends and family in need, his laughter (to the point of tears) at his own “Dad jokes,” his talented harmonica playing, his love for art house movies, classical music, the Sunday newspapers, and Rutgers football, as well as his tremendous pride in the accomplishments of his children.

In his final years, unable to move about easily, he worked long hours with his supportive editor on a book of his photographs and his thoughts on the artistic process. That book, entitled 75 Years of Photography, will be published this spring.

Spencer is survived by his daughter Janet Ross, his son Michael Ross, his daughter-in-law Ashley Murchison Ross, his grandson Andrew Myers Ross (who called Spence “PeePaw”), and his partner Annabel Caner and her children and grandchildren.

For those who wish to honor Spencer’s memory with a donation in his name, his favorite charities were the Environmental Defense Fund, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, and the Rutgers University Crew Team’s “Class of ’45 Forever” fund.  A memorial celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

Many who knew Spence well knew that he loved early mornings and late afternoons because the light was perfect for photographs. His family will always cherish the memory of Spence, in the Great Swamp and other settings, deep in thought, with his eye to his camera, adjusting his lens, and snapping one shot after another of something beautiful that had caught his eye when the light was just right.


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