Obituary: Lynne Spear

Grandmother, longtime Pitzer College staffer, independent spirit

Independent, straight-talking, and always brimming with motherly love and advice, Lynne Spear — a 44-year Claremont resident and retired Pitzer College staffer — died after a sudden illness on May 24, just days short of her 84th birthday.

Born in 1939, Lynne — née Saralyn Lola Gray — grew up in the golden era of 1940s-‘50s Los Angeles, riding the old Red Cars to the beach from her childhood home in Los Feliz and sliding down poison ivy-laden hills to sneak into the Hollywood Bowl. (As if the subsequent rash weren’t punishment enough, her mother, Dee, promptly marched her back to Bowl management to apologize.)

As a child in a classical music-loving family, she became an impressive young pianist, studying for more than a decade. But she hated the lessons and quit the moment she was allowed, almost never playing again despite a grand piano that remains a fixture of her living room to this day.

After the sudden death of her father when she was just 12, she, her mother and brother Dennis moved to Santa Monica Canyon, where she attended school and began to develop a rebellious spirit. Never hesitant to challenge authority, she often clashed with school administrators and was forced to change schools more than once. It was around that time that she met Sandi, and the pair remained best friends into their 80s.

Always eager for adventure, she spent her senior year of high school in Mexico, living at first with a great aunt but ending up on her own in a boarding house, where she taught herself to smoke and drink Cuba Libres. She dreamed of becoming an interpreter or embassy staffer, living around the world.

Instead, she met Gerald Sanders. The pair fell in love, married, and had two sons, Eric and Eddie, and eventually settled in Ganesha Hills in Pomona. She threw herself into the role of traditional homemaker and mother, serving as Cub Scout den mother, chauffeur for her children and organizer of extravagant Christmas mornings — each one memorialized in shaky but brightly-lit Super 8 movies.

After a divorce in 1979, she became a single mother, juggling the raising of two sons with full-time work at engineering giant C.F. Braun & Co. As Eric left for college, she and Eddie relocated to Claremont for better schools. She lived on Hood Drive for the next four decades.

In 1980, she married Bill Spear. Five years later, she began a new career at Pitzer College, working in the financial aid office. More than once she was voted a favorite of graduating seniors for her help navigating complicated government aid programs and, more importantly, always lending a supportive ear to students’ problems and serving as a de facto mother to those on their own for the first time.

After retirement in 2000, she embraced her most cherished role: grandmother. It began first with her many step-grandchildren, including youngest Evan and Colin, and then with Eric’s daughter, Genevieve, whom she spoiled enthusiastically and unapologetically.

She also was a beloved aunt and great-aunt to her nieces and great-nieces and great-nephews in California and Oregon. Her refrigerator door stands as testament to her devotion: covered by a magnet held collage of their photographs and drawings.

She did eventually get to scratch the itch to travel by visiting her sons during their stints living abroad in England, Germany, Kenya, and Israel. She was particularly proud of a camelback ride she took with Eddie at age 64 at the foot of the great pyramids in Egypt.

Throughout her life, people gravitated to her to share their problems and seek her advice, which she gave willingly, frankly, and lovingly. That included not just friends and family, but neighbors, store clerks, handymen, beauticians and virtually anyone who crossed into her life. Not only a great listener, she was also genuinely interested and intensely loyal. Although the advice could be direct and not always what the person wanted to hear, the listener knew it would be honest and from a place of love.

Into her 80s, after divorce from Bill in 2008, she spent the better part of most days answering a stream of phone calls from far-flung loved ones — coffee and cigarettes in hand — aiding them through crises, administrating the occasional tough love and celebrating their triumphs.

In her own understated, self-deprecating way, she was an anchor in the lives of everyone she touched.



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