The Passing of Professor Guilford Spencer

To the Williams community,

I write today with sad news of a retired faculty member who has passed away. Guilford (Guil) L. Spencer II, Class of 1944, the Frederick Latimer Wells Professor of Mathematics, emeritus, who taught at the college for 32 years, died on July 24 at the Commons in Lincoln, Mass. He was 95.

Born and raised in Natick, Mass., Guil attended Wellesley High School. As an undergraduate at Williams, he accelerated his studies in order to enter the Navy during World War II, serving from 1944-46 as a lieutenant. Following his service in the military, he went on to graduate work in mathematics at MIT and the University of Michigan and postdoctoral research on topology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Guil taught at the University of Maryland for five years before returning to Williams in 1957 as an associate professor. He was named Frederick Latimer Wells Professor in 1966 and served as chair of the mathematics department for 18 years. “Guil Spencer’s years as math chair set the stage for our modern department,” said Frank Morgan, Atwell Professor of Mathematics, emeritus. “He always had time for everyone and everything.”

Until his retirement in 1989, Guil taught courses in analysis, topology, computer programming, differential equations, and topics in geometry and numerical analysis, and co-authored the book Elementary Topology. Guil’s friends and colleagues remember his devotion to Williams as well as his kind nature and generous spirit, always willing to share his vast knowledge about the college and the math department. “He was a thoughtful, considerate man, and I feel lucky to have known him,” said Thomas T. Read Professor of Mathematics Colin Adams.

Guil’s service extended beyond Williams to the local community. He served as chairman of the Williamstown School Committee and president of the Berkshire Area Board for Mental Health and Mental Retardation, as it was known at the time. In addition, he was a senior warden of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Williamstown and a trustee of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

Guil’s wife of 60 years, Eleanor P. Spencer (Penfield), predeceased him. His survivors include his four children, Guil III, Bill, Martha, and Liz; his sister, Gloria Frankel; nine grandchildren, including Matthew Gardner Spencer ’05 (and his wife, Jocelyn Gardner Spencer ’05); and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held for Guilford Spencer at the Wellesley Hills Congregational Church in Wellesley, Mass., at 11 a.m. on Friday, August 17.

In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes memorial donations to The Boston Home in Dorchester, Mass.

Our thoughts are with Guil’s family and many friends.


Maud S. Mandel
Professor of History; Program in Jewish Studies