In Memoriam: John Kyle Spencer '13

John Kyle Spencer, a 2013 graduate of Washington and Lee's Environmental Studies Program, passed away unexpectedly in January of 2016. As a major in both Philosophy and Environmental Studies, John embraced the interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Studies and the myriad learning opportunities the liberal arts curriculum offered him. At the time of his death, John was a graduate student in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

In a eulogy written for John, Associate Professor of Biology Robert Humston recalled the words of Aldo Leopold:

"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."
- A Sand County Almanac (1949)

"When he first arrived in my class, John recognized the wounds but always saw the beauty beneath no matter how deep he learned that those wounds cut," continued Humston. "When soon after he learned about the ways we can work to conserve, protect, and restore our natural systems, John chose to be the doctor. It is too easy to become overwhelmed the more we explore the damage history has inflicted on our landscapes. But John's easy smile and unflappable humor would have none of that. For all its tragedy, John always saw the beauty and the potential first, and sought to spend his life showing others that it is still possible for us to repair our relationship with the earth. It's a rare person who can smile and set his jaw at the same time."

"Let us take his example as his legacy," continued Humston. "Life will go on for us and there is work to be done. John is no longer here to undertake the job; let's strive to do it for him by working from his example."

In the fall of 2016, a tree from John's beloved Sugar Hill Farm in Yatesville, Georgia, will be transplanted to the front lawn of the campus near Newcomb Hall to ensure that John's legacy also will live on in the soil of Washington and Lee.

To help fund the tree and memorial plaque, visit and use the online donation form. In the comment box, type "John Spencer '13 Memorial." Checks can be made out to W&L with "John Spencer '13 Memorial" written in the memo line. Send checks to University Development, Washington and Lee University, 204 W. Washington Street, Lexington VA 24450.