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Joe Spearman, key leader of BRCC, dies at age 77

Joe D. Spearman, a Hendersonville businessman who devoted 27 years of service to Blue Ridge Community College and as chairman led the college through a period of growth and improvement, died Tuesday at Elizabeth House after a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

Born in Cleveland County to a mill working family, Spearman started a wholesale meat business in Hendersonville and expanded that into a regional food distribution company. He later owned a furniture store with business partner Bill Prim, a political opposite who was as staunch a Republican as Spearman was a Democrat.
Spearman served on the Henderson County School Board from 1982 until 1996, and helped plan to city-county school merger in 1993. He served 27 years on the BRCC Board of Trustees, serving as chairman for 16 years, from 1991 until 2007.
"Mr. Spearman gave more than 40 years of volunteer leadership and dedicated service to education in Henderson County—something few individuals have ever achieved," BRCC president Molly Parkhill said. "His 27 years of service to Blue Ridge Community College, combined with his unique appreciation of the value of hard work, made him a champion of higher education and particularly training and retraining the local workforce."
During his tenure as chairman, BRCC saw an increase in student enrollment and expansion of a comprehensive curriculum and built strong relationships throughout the county and across the state, Parkhill said. The Applied Technology Building was renamed and dedicated in his honor in April 1993 and serves as a reminder of his contributions to the College and community.
"Mr. Spearman's financial support of the College Foundation reflected his passion and commitment to offer scholarships to deserving students who cannot afford to attend college," she said.
Spearman was appointed to the Board of Commissioners to fill an unexpired term but was unsuccessful when he ran for the seat in the next election.
In business here since 1962, Spearman believed in BRCC and the students it turned out.
"He hires mostly BRCC graduates trained in heating and cooling or refrigeration," said a biographical sketch when he was inducted into the Henderson County Education Foundation Hall of Fame in 2003. "The Spearman Building, named for him six years ago, houses courses in such 'hands-on' technology. Also, carpentry classes may use his sawmill at his home."
Bessie Bright, who worked for Spearman for nearly 20 years at the furniture store off Spartanburg Highway, recalled that as a boss he relied on "the ladies" who sold furniture to make the call.
"He was a very nice man to work with," she said. "Joe was more or less the silent person. Bill Prim was managing the store. I had known Joe since he started in the meat business. I think they opened the store in 1983 or 1984."
"Joe was always a very considerate person. We pretty much set our hours. He never micro-managed. He sort of said if ya'll think that's what's best, to do it."
She said he loved BRCC and devoted time and money to it.
"He just felt like he wanted to give back to the community because he felt like the community had been good to him," Bright said. "We got after him a lot of times because we thought he was too generous."
Spearman and Prim were a political odd couple, strongly supporting opposite parties but never letting that interfere with friendship. "I would tell people I worked for Mr. Democrat and Mr. Republican," Bright said. "If you think that wasn't fun around election time...."


Thos. Shepherd and Son Funeral Directors will announce funeral arrangements.