Ted R. Spivey, 85: Professor, writer, commentator on Southern literature
By J.E. Geshwiler
The prose and poetry of the South occupy an important place in American culture, thanks in part to penetrating analyses by scholars such as Ted Spivey, longtime professor of English at Georgia State University.
Spivey wrote 24 books and dozens of essays, many of them about Southern literature. His literary brethren at universities throughout the South characterized him in their reviews of his books as a skilled and insightful commentator on the works of luminaries such as Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy and Conrad Aiken.
Spivey befriended a number of noted authors, and over the years he exchanged letters and engaged in lively face-to-face conversations with them. In the process, said his sister-in-law, Paula Hill of Atlanta, Spivey learned a lot about their formative experiences, their individual philosophies, even their religious convictions.
“Ted was a scholar of great depth without being stiff-necked, a great teacher without being theatrical,” said Billy Winn of Columbus, a former managing editor of Atlanta magazine. “Ted wasn’t afraid to be critical in analyzing the work and personalities of Southern writers, even though he might irk some of them.”
Winn said Spivey was at the core of a group of learned thinkers in Atlanta during the 1960s, a time of profound cultural and social ferment here. “Ted was such an urban person that I was surprised when he retired to Saint Simons,” Winn said.
Ted R. Spivey, 85, of Saint Simons Island, died Friday at the Hospice of the Golden Isles of respiratory failure. His funeral service is 3 p.m. Monday at Christ Church Frederica on Saint Simons Island with a graveside service Tuesday at Swainsboro City Cemetery. Edo Miller and Sons Funeral Home, Brunswick, is in charge of arrangements.
Born and reared in Swainsboro, Spivey served as a seaman second class in the Navy toward the end of World War II. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Emory University and a doctorate at the University of Minnesota, he taught briefly at the latter school and then returned to Georgia, where he taught two years at Emory. In 1956 he joined the faculty at Georgia State, retiring in 1989 as regent’s professor of English.
Margaret Langford of Atlanta recalled Spivey as a helpful faculty adviser when she worked on her master’s thesis at Georgia State. Her favorite memory of him, she said, was how gracious he was in hosting annual pre-Christmas gatherings of his students at his home. She said they enjoyed discussing, over glasses of peach brandy, what they had written, or, better still, what they had managed to get published.
She said Spivey also regularly taught a Sunday school class at All Saints Episcopal Church, where he often talked about American and British authors and the religious aspects of their works.
Spivey was faculty adviser to Carol Barnum of Atlanta for both her master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. She said he influenced her decision to become a college professor herself, now on the faculty of Southern Polytechnic State University.
“His teaching style — a student-centered approach — was way ahead of its time,” she said. “Rather than fill class time by lecturing, he would throw out questions to us and let us wrestle with them. It taught us to be independent, critical thinkers.”
Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Julia Spivey; a daughter and son, Mary Cashin and John Andrew Spivey, both of Brookhaven; a sister, Deene Youngblood of Swainsboro; and two granddaughters.