Dan Spector, Cooper-Young. COVID Claims a True Midtowner

Dan Spector, August 25, 1951 – March 31, 2020

As a writer, when someone passes away, we set aside our own feelings and write only of the person who passed, their accomplishments, people and organizations they influenced, their family. When someone we know passes away, it gets more personal.

When someone we know is taken by a virus that is coming for us, that could take any of us, it becomes about all of us.

Dan Spector was all of us. He is all of us.

Dan is not the first Memphian to contract the virus, just as he isn’t the first to succumb to the virus. Unfortunately he won’t be the last.

But what Dan Spector represents to Midtown and Cooper-Young embodies the very spirit and character that is this corner of Memphis, Mid-South, Tennessee. An artist, passionate about his community, unassuming, humble yet outspoken, he was a part of the color tapestry, the fabric that holds Midtown together.

For me personally, Dan always had some of the most challenging questions. He was the guy in the room who you knew was absorbing every comment, listening intently, mulling over the topic, and thinking well through his question before asking. His question was always about that one thing you hadn’t exactly thought about yet. I loved that about him.

The Midtown community loved him too.

~Mark Fleischer, StoryBoard Publisher

In Memoriam

Dan Spector was quirky; that is why we all loved him. He marched to the beat of a different drum, and that was cool. As Joni sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

I first knew him from my time at Beth Sholom Synagogue. He attended every concert I’ve ever produced, including 25 versions of Acoustic Sunday Live! He was always helpful and we always listed him in the program as he deserved to be. Whether it was putting up the concert banner at our office in midtown every fall to doing whatever was needed to make the production successful, he was there.

Right before he closed his shop, Archicast, he told me to come by and pick out a small cast angel which sits on the porch at 1726 Madison. Many clients and friends have asked about it over the years. It gives us all a feeling of safety when people come in and out, and it now has special meaning.

We grew up in the NY area and shared many stories about that over lunch, whether at Zinnies East or at Broadway Pizza. He was an artist’s artist. He also was an avid listener of my radio show, Folk Song Fiesta, and called or texted constantly with song suggestions. He always spoke of Dave Van Ronk, the Mayor of Macdougal Street, and he loved that I knew Van Ronk and continue to be a champion of his music. I remember when I produced a fundraiser/S’lichot program with Van Ronk along with Oscar Brand and Sally Fingerett at Beth Sholom Synagogue called “Folk S’lichot, The Music of Greenwich Village,” Dan was sitting right next to me, and after many years, I still remember him watching intently.

We also spoke about my experiences at Burning Man, and he always sent me pictures and articles about the art installations and I would respond, “yep, I remember that one.” He would have loved it. RIP, my red-haired friend from Cooper-Young.

~Bruce Newman, Attorney at Law, Midtowner
Dan’s small cast angel on the porch at 1726 Madison

Dan was a great neighbor and friend to the CYCA. He was a founding member of the Landmarks Committee, a regular volunteer, and a constant presence at our meetings and events. We will miss him.

~Cooper-Young Community Association

Dan Spector was one of my favorite community members to work with over the years. He was definitely eccentric, often loud and with a big opinion on most things. But he also kept beautiful rare flowers and I know he always supported me in our time working together. I am so sorry for his family and close friends. He made a big impact on me, he’ll be missed.

~Kristen Schebler, past executive director, Cooper-Young Community Association
Dan Spector, in his Archicast studio on Broad Avenue

Eulogy, April 1, 2020, by H. Scott Prosterman

Good morning friends – I’m H. Scott Prosterman – Chiam Shimon ben Gabriel, and I was a close friend of Dan Spector. Though we didn’t spend a great deal of time together over the balance of our lives, we had many great quality times together, including on my most recent visit to Memphis last summer.

I first met Dan Spector at a Beth Shalom Oneg Shabbat in the early 90’s. He had become a familiar face around Memphis at art and music events, but we never had a real conversation until that day. We talked about art, music, Judaism and local politics that day, and I left the shul that day with a new friend. Dan was a devoted member of the Beth Shalom, and served as president of the Beth Shalom Men’s Club.

My presence here today fulfills an obligation. Four years ago when my stepfather died, I was touched that Dan was one of my few friends who not only came for the funeral, but also the gravesite service at Beth Shalom Cemetery. I’m mindful of my obligation to Dan today, which arises out of his grace in attending my stepfather’s funeral. As I went around with a hug & kiss for my close friends who supported me that day, I thanked Dan for his presence. He said, “Well Scotty of course, if you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”

That poignant display of humor characterized Dan’s very dry wit.  Not everybody got it, but I sure did. Dan was an artist’s artist in the Memphis community, and a regular presence at many music and arts events in Memphis. He was loved and admired for his great work, quirkiness, dry humor, bluntness, kindness & candor. And as we know candor is a valuable commodity in the South. His lifelong friend Jim Klein remembers loving Dan for his “inappropriateness.” Jim said, “He would speak his mind, bluntly, unfiltered…and you had to deal with it. He was one of the kindest, most gentle persons I’ve ever meet.” Jim also remembers how Dan cared for him when he had an acute flu in college, and got angry when the medical staff wasn’t taking care of him. That was the only time Jim saw him show anger.

When I visited his studio on Broad Street in the mid-90’s I was always amazed at the quality of his lifelike sculptures at Archicast; they are beautiful and erotic, with great attention to texture and detail. Dan’s love and admiration for women is clearly exhibited in much of his work. Dan maintained Archicast from 1984 until 2016, when he had to give up the studio in a horribly unfair situation. Other than his studio, the building was a condemnable wreck, so the landlord had to evict him in order to do structural repairs. He then set up Lifecast, and continued to do restoration and contract work in semi-retirement, including restoring the moldings on the 19th Century Club and other historic buildings in Memphis.

No one endeared himself to the Memphis arts, music and sports culture as Dan Spector did. He came to Memphis in the 70’s as a designer at the Wonder Horse factory in Collierville, TN. Fresh out of the Rhode Island School of Design, with flaming red hair and a subtle New England accent, Dan made his way in the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. At first he asked himself what a Red Headed Jew from Long Island was doing in a place like Memphis, but he adapted. He became a mentor and source of advice for other Memphis artists including potter Margie Culbertson, who was a loving partner for much of his life. She remembers:

“We had a lot of fun together, and he kept me laughing with his acerbic wit, no matter how down either one of us were from time to time. He had an extensive knowledge of history and could talk at length about Memphis and the yellow fever epidemic, the Civil Rights Movement, the Blues, Cotton Carnival, Memphis in May and the evolution of the Beale street Music Festival for whom he volunteered through the years. He had a kind heart and strong ethical core.”

Though his life was focused on the arts, Dan was a HUGE sports fan, and adapted to the Memphis sports culture as well as any “foreigner.” Along with his love for the New England Patriots and Yankees, Dan became a huge fan of Memphis STATE football and basketball, the AAA Memphis Redbirds and the Memphis Grizzlies. His brother Jonathan remembers them going to the Mets opening day of their 1969 season during Pesach, with sandwiches Mom had prepared on egg-leavened rolls. Though they were underage, she also reminded them that beer is not Kosher for Pesach. The Mets lost a dramatic game to the Montreal Expos 11-10 in the Expos’ first game in history, but the Mets won the World Series that year so the boys got the last laugh.

Michele Kiel Less remembers, “Dan reminds us of the importance of this wonderful place that we call home. He loved his Broad Street peeps and his Cooper Young neighborhood. He loved the Memphis Tigers. Dan loved Memphis. His talents and the quirkiness for which he was so he was so recognized and so loved will be deeply missed.” 

The fact that we can’t be together as a family and community makes this more painful. We’d feel better if we could hug, share bubby kisses, stories, food and our sense of community. Hopefully, there will be time for that next year. Sadly, we won’t share the gravesite experience, walking 7 steps at a time to properly honor him, and reciting Kaddish in the same place. That time can come later if it feels right to the family. Synagogues are our spiritual homes, made of brick & mortar. But synagogues close and buildings crumble; and our cemeteries will always be here. So hopefully, we can all gather at Beth Shalom Cemetery in one year when it’s safe to travel, and honor Dan in a manner befitting of such a mensch.

One Reply to “Dan Spector, Cooper-Young. COVID Claims a True Midtowner”

  1. A great eulogy from Mark Fleischer with loving comments from the community. I met Dan in his studio in the mid 1970s. He was and reminded, crusty, opinionated and caring. I would not have wanted him to be any other way. His presence in the architectural an art community was large and compelling. His knowledge and skills along with his unique personality will be missed by so many. R.I.P. my old friend. -Allen Rankin-Publisher,Midtown Living Magazine

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