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Skidmore College
Skidmore Retirees

Frederick A. Spear

Frederick A. Spear, professor emeritus of French and the "ultimate bibliographer," according to a Skidmore colleague, died Dec. 31, 2008, in Portsmouth, N.H.  He was 85.

Born Dec. 26, 1923, in Methuen, Mass., Fred was the son of Isabella and Frederick Spear. After graduating from Edward F. Searles High School in Methuen and attending Camp Lawrence on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire each summer, he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned an A.B. degree, cum laude, with honors in French. His education was interrupted by a three-year term in the Army during World War II, where he spent most of his time stationed in Antwerp, Belgium, as a cryptographer. Fred continued his education at Harvard University, earning an A.M. degree in romance languages; and at Columbia University, where he obtained a doctorate in French. Fred also completed courses at Shrivenham American University in England, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the universities of Bordeaux and Toulouse in France, where he was a Fulbright Scholar.

Fred began his teaching career at Union College, and taught at Wesleyan, Columbia, and Brown before joining the faculty of Skidmore in 1961 as an assistant professor of French.  When he retired in 1986 he had attained the rank of professor.

Throughout his career, Fred had a passion for researching and writing bibliographies on two of his favorite French philosophers, Voltaire and Diderot. His research took him through much of Eastern and Western Europe. Fred had a keen interest in 18th-century studies and was an active member of the American Friends of Lafayette. Lynne Gelber, professor emerita of French at Skidmore and a former chair of the department, called Fred "the ultimate bibliographer." She added, "He was a well-liked 18th-century specialist and kindly teacher. He was the kind of person one could always rely on."

Another department colleague, Anthony Nazzaro, professor emeritus of French, remembered that Fred was "internationally celebrated" for his bibliographies of Voltaire and Diderot. Said Nazzaro, "Fred went to a conference at one point, and was approached by a Russian woman who rushed up to him and threw her arms around him and thanked him for his work. I'm sure he was surprised by such an enthusiastic reaction, but his work was highly regarded." The bibliographies were quite detailed, and included everything written in every language on and by the subjects.

Fred and his wife of 61 years, Phyllis, spent their latter years on Swain's Pond in Barrington, N.H., and at their beach home in Salisbury, Mass. He was a member of the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist Church in Newburyport, Mass., and the First Congregational Society Unitarian Church in Hampton Falls, N.H.

Fred also took great joy in dog-sitting for Nicodemus, Ralph, Chamois, and Jack Rabbit Johansen. 

In addition to his wife, Fred is survived by his daughter Priscilla (Robert) Toth of Saratoga Springs; and his son Frederick S. Spear of Princeton, W.V.