Taronda Spencer, 54: Spelman College archivist, historian

As the archivist at Spelman College, Taronda Spencer was responsible for preserving the past. At the same time, she had a tremendous impact on the future of the college and its students.

A 1980 graduate of Spelman, Spencer became the institution’s archivist in 1998 and the college’s historian in 2000. In those roles she routinely helped researchers, and anyone else who may have been looking, find information among the collections of papers and memorabilia that belong to the school.

“Taronda’s job as the college archivist was unique,” said Beverly Guy-Sheftall, professor of women’s studies and founding director of the Spelman College Women’s Research and Resource Center. “We were looking for someone who had the qualifications of a college archivist, but who would also work within the Women’s Center unit, because we were also interested in fostering research on African-American women.”

Not only did Spencer keep track of Spelman’s history, but she also knew the various historical works and scholarly papers that had been gifted to, or acquired by, the college. As summer approached, Spencer was gearing up to help the researchers who were sure to come to campus seeking historical information for papers, projects and books.

On May 17, two days before graduation, Taronda Elise Spencer, of Atlanta, fell ill while at a Spelman function that evening. She died later that night after suffering a massive heart attack. She was 54. A funeral was held Saturday at Elizabeth Baptist Church. Her body was cremated following the service and her ashes will be scattered during a memorial service at 6 p.m. Tuesday, on the campus of Spelman College. Willie A. Watkins Funeral Home, Historic West End Chapel, was in charge of arrangements.

A native of New Orleans, Spencer was a second generation archivist. Spencer’s mother, who worked in the field for 42 years, hoped her only daughter would choose a college close to home, but Spelman beckoned to the younger woman, Emanuella Julien Spencer said of her daughter.

“She loved Spelman College,” Spencer said. “Hearing from some of the young women since Taronda died, it is just so nice to know my baby touched so many lives.”

The senior Spencer said she heard stories of her daughter’s efforts to remind young women why they were in college. The younger Spencer also took time to motivate new, and not-so-new, Spelmanites to do their best work in college and in life.

In 1985 Spencer earned a master’s degree in history and archives administration from the University of New Orleans. She then worked as a processing archivist with The Historic New Orleans Collection, which is dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South region. She left that post in 1991 and worked as an archivist at Wayne State University, and then the Cooperative HBCU Archival Survey Project, before taking her current position in Atlanta.

In addition to Spencer’s mother, she is survived by three brothers, Rodney A. Spencer of Los Angeles, Calif., Royzell D. Spencer of Universal City, Texas, and Russell J. Spencer of Tampa, Fla.