Mary Spear Compton 1922 – 2017

by Placerville Newswire / Feb 22, 2020 / comments

[Dennis Spear]

Mary Spear Compton, B orn Nov. 25, 1922 – Died Jan. 4, 2017

January 4th, 2017 at 10 a.m., I was talking to mom on the phone about coming up to Placerville to take care of family business. Mom paused for a moment and then said, “I love you, Goodbye, I am closing my eyes.” It was at that moment she died at age 94. We were all expecting this outcome, but mom controlled her own destiny and passed on her own terms. She was lucid till the very end.

For three-quarters of a century, the Spear family had lived in Placerville. First in a WWII army tent on Texas Hill Road as dad hand-built our first house. Mom had come from a middle-class Italian family in Ohio and was escaping an arranged marriage to a Mafioso getting out of prison. She arrived in Placerville and was abandoned by her boyfriend at the old Ivy House hotel on main street when he found she was pregnant…with me. I knew nothing of this till after she passed. It answered a lot of questions about why I never felt I belonged.

Mary Means (Chaicchira) was independent till the day she passed. She was known as Mary Spear and passed away as Mary Spear Compton. She spent nearly 40 years as the secretary to the presidents of Aerojet. While it didn’t register at the time, she was part of the space program history that saw our country go to the moon and beyond. It was a time when women didn’t have titles, but she was in essence, a vice president, who made major decisions and was integral to the history of our space program. Mom played an important role in history.

I admired her independence in raising four kids from the early ‘40s till we were all gone from home. Now, in the start of the fifth year after her death, I can write a bit that everyone should know about her. She set an example for all women as an individual thinker and pragmatic worker. She worked for equal rights without thinking of herself as a feminist, but she was. She changed the culture at Aerojet though persistence and a sense of justice and equality.

Mom worked with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and held multiple offices in Placerville’s Emblem Club. She was an important volunteer with California State Parks at Coloma and worked on many volunteer projects from Placerville, Sacramento and Hawaii.

Mom’s life was complex in ways that I didn’t always understand. We locked horns many times as I helped bail certain members of the family out of many dicey adventures. Each of us were individuals and clashed many times. Our family has drifted to the four wind and shadows of history. But she was a true American woman with all the high qualities and deep flaws one would expect and admire.

The Spear history is becoming a memory and that name is left as a silent sentinel on a Street sign near Markham School. In many ways, mom deserved better than what she ended up with, but now she has become part of the fabric of an American life told in anecdotal stories.

Mary Spear Compton is, today, part of the lore of Placerville history. 

May she have peace now as another small, but important part of the universe beyond life. 

May she be remembered with a bit of that honor every American has earned.

Dennis Spear