Major General Stanhope S. Spears Sr. who served 16 years as the elected 26th Adjutant General of the State of South Carolina from 1995-2011 died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. For his 83 years, he lived an extraordinary life one in which was highlighted by his love of family and humble service to others.
General Spears was born in his beloved Clover, SC to the late Joseph J. Spears and Emily Sifford Spears. His fondness for his hometown started early as he always believed his large family, the values of the community and kindness of its citizens collectively raised him to become a well-rounded individual. His drive for success and regimented work ethic started early as he became an Eagle Scout at 13. He attributed the foundation of the Boy Scouts in helping to define and shape his leadership skills. A naturally gifted athlete, he led South Carolina’s Shine Bowl All-Star high school team to a 27-7 victory over North Carolina in 1954. He received multiple college scholarship opportunities ultimately deciding on a full scholarship to The University of South Carolina in 1955. As quarterback for the Fighting Gamecocks from 1955 through 1959, Gen. Spears assisted the 1958 squad to a 7-3 record and ranking 15th nationally in the final Associated Press college football poll. General Spears was a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity and earned a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration Degree a semester early in January 1959.
In 1959, after teaching for a short while in Camden, SC, Gen Spears joined the South Carolina Air National Guard and reported to US Air Force Basic Training on Aug 4, 1959. After two years, General Spears switched to the SC Army National Guard and enrolled in Officer’s Candidate School in 1961. He was promoted and worked hard on his SC Guard career.
Between 1961 and 1994, General Spears focused on his corporate insurance career and family. In 1963 he married Gastonia, NC native Dorothy Parlier. They lived in Charlotte, NC, Shelby, NC, Greensboro, NC and ultimately settled in Columbia, SC in 1966. They added two children to the family along the way with Stan Jr and Alester. General Spears’ polished demeanor and vibrant personality attributed to very successful Executive Vice-President Sales roles in the international companies of Marsh and McLennan and Willis Corroon. His insurance career spanned more than 30 years. It was this career that allowed Gen. Spears, his wife and children to enjoy life and vacation frequently at Edisto Beach, SC.
On a business trip to London in 1994, Gen. Spears received a call from MG T. Eston Marchant, the then current SC Adjutant General, encouraging him to run for the Adjutant General position that he was vacating. After much deliberation with his wife and fellow guardsmen, Gen. Spears felt the calling to serve the great State of South Carolina and embarked on his first campaign. With his wife by his side, they campaigned together throughout the state and fully devoted their lives to maintaining the stellar reputation of one of the finest National Guards in the country. Gen. Spears forever thought himself as a Citizen-Soldier and ran his first election as a Democrat, ultimately switching to run as a Republican for his last three elections. His devotion to the State of SC was endless. He always voted for people over party, supported any activities promoting a positive light on SC nationally (he was delighted and supported any SC school in national championships), and worked tirelessly to help in national elections if the outcome would benefit the State of SC and the Guard. He and his son, Stan Jr, headed up the “Veterans for Bush” campaign during Bush’s 2000 Presidential Campaign. Additionally, he spearheaded the “Veterans for McCain” campaign in SC for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 Presidential run. During his second and third terms, Gen Spears’ troops were heavily involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 response and Global War on Terror. He personally witnessed the attack on the Pentagon from an offside location less than a mile away. He felt a heavy obligation to support all South Carolina servicemen and their families during these stressful times. His “Mission First-People Always” approach is still remembered by guardsmen today.
As the SC Adjutant General, he served as Head of the Military Department of the state of South Carolina. He administered the affairs of the South Carolina Army and Air National Guard, the Emergency Management Division, the State Guard, Youth Challenge, and Americorp.
Prior to becoming the SC Adjutant General, he commanded at all levels throughout his military career, including his first assignment as an armor platoon leader, detachment commander of the state's Public Affairs unit, commandant of the Weekend Training site, commander of the 4th Battalion, 118th Infantry Division, state Public Affairs officer, chief of the state's Training Division, director of the Palmetto Military Academy, and commander of Joint Forces Headquarters.
General Spears received many major awards and decorations during his 51 year service to the National Guard including: Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, Defense Meritorious Medal, State Longevity Ribbon, Safety Ribbon, Retired Medal, Secretary of Defense Medal and Secretary of the Amy Medal. Additionally, he served on the Citadel Board of Visitors for 16 years and received a Citadel Honorary Degree for his dedication. General Spears was also awarded The Order of the Palmetto, the State of SC’s highest civilian honor award, in 1988 by Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Other highlighted achievements include Gen. Spears’ 50+ year membership in Forest Lake Presbyterian Church where he served as a Sunday school teacher and a deacon. He was affiliated with the National Guard Association and a National Rifle Association member. He volunteered his time to the South Carolina Military Museum. He was a Life Loyal Sig for the Sigma Chi Fraternity, a member of Spring Valley Country Club for several decades, a member of Saraband Club and several other social clubs. He often used his influence via the Guard to impact several charitable activities throughout the State of SC, including assisting children in need, state parks and natural resources.
Upon retiring, General Spears was able to focus more on many activities near and dear to his heart. As a lover of the great outdoors, he turned his attention to gardening, hunting, and bird watching from his porch at Edisto. He always promoted and kept up on activities associated with the Guard. His love of college football, specifically the Gamecocks, never waned. However, his greatest passion was spending time with his family, spending time at Edisto or traveling the world with his wife and family. Gen. Spears’ family appreciates all the kindness of friends along that way and the wonderful care he received at Wildewood Downs, from his doctors and through Abby Road Hospice.
Gen. Spears is survived by his wife of 57 years, Dorothy (Dot) Parlier Spears of Columbia; his son, Alester Spears and Phillip Pettis of Charleston, SC; his grandson, Stanhope S. (Ford) Spears III of Columbia, SC; his nephew, Derek Spears(Missy) of Charlotte, NC and niece, Suzanne Spears Wilson (Scott) of Traverse City, MI.
He is predeceased by his parents, Joseph and Emily Spears, his son, Stanhope S. Spears, Jr. and his brother and sister-in-law, Joseph J. Spears and Marie Spears.
A visitation will be held at Dunbar Funeral Home, Devine Street Chapel on July 17, 2020 from 10 a.m. until 12:30 o’clock p.m., immediately followed by a funeral service at 1:00 p.m., conducted by Dr. Ellen Skidmore and assisted by Chaplain (Col.) Steve Shupert in the Dunbar Chapel. The Columbia service will include full military honors. The service will also be live-streamed on Dunbar Funeral Home’s Facebook page.
The internment will be held at Woodside Cemetery in Clover, SC on July 18, 2020 at 11:00 a.m. All events are public.
Pallbearers and flag bearers will be members of the South Carolina National Guard. Posthumous Pallbearers are Major General T. Eston Marchant and Lt Col. Pete Brooks.
Memorials can be made to The Boy Scouts of America, The Alzheimer’s Association, and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. In keeping with his thoughtful demeanor, a random act of kindness to a stranger during these difficult times in honor of Gen Spears would also be appreciated.
The family understands the importance of health and safety during these difficult times. All services and visitations will have a strict social distancing and mandatory mask policy. For those who opt to attend, thank you for your extra vigilance and thinking of others when practicing safety protocols.
Memories may be shared at www.dunbarfunerals.com
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