Peerless talent for making fun activity of anything

Toni Spencer
Toni Spencer

A close-knit family of Southland girls, four daughters of Anne and the late Greig Spencer, suffered a real loss this year with the passing in Australia of number two daughter Toni.

Ms Spencer died at her home at Tannum Sands in Australia with her husband, New Zealander Gerard Galvin, by her side, their two children, her sisters Leigh, Kim and Patrice and their mother.

It was not a sudden passing - there was time for everyone to gather - but the news came as a shock to Toni's friends, fellow teachers and others in the worlds of education and art back in Southland.

With a degree from Otago University, and teacher training in the first intake at the Southland campus of the College of Education, she had spearheaded the Newspapers in Education, NIE, programme that enabled The Southland Times to connect with schools and show how the curriculum married with the media - newspapers yesterday, digital technology today.

Toni, born in 1968 at Winton, went to primary school at Makarewa, intermediate at Rosedale and secondary at James Hargest College, where she and her three sisters left a mark through the 1980s.

The girls were like the Mitford sisters in Britain, Invercargill's Muriel Henderson daughters of the 1960s - a whole family of girls whose looks, talents and personalities made them memorable for everyone around.

Toni's strength was her creativity.

She was a skilled artist and her work had value.

But she was more than artistic. She was creative in the sense that whatever she did she undertook with a particular flair - whether making a birthday cake or undertaking school projects in her NIE job.

She linked in with teachers and children and could make a fun activity of anything.

The initial Teachers' Outpost produced people like Ben Winders and Angela Newell - and Toni, Southlanders whose degrees came back with them from Otago and were waiting to be utilised here.

Most of her timing was clever. She opened Apple Pie, a label clothing exchange for parents whose children were growing too fast out of clothing destined to do a turn elsewhere.

She held her first art exhibition at the Don Street Art Gallery and right on opening night husband Gerard rushed her to the hospital at the imminent arrival of second baby, Samuel.

An accountant with Rio Tinto, Gerard's job took them to Australia where they settled at Tannum Sands near Gladstone and enjoyed their children growing up in the sun.

But Toni's life journey was cut short by cancer.

She lived long enough to plan her own farewell and reassure her family she was OK and they would be too.

She leaves Jessica, 15, and Sam, nearly 9, with their dad in Australia; Leigh and partner Tony in an internet-based business in Hawke's Bay; Kim Spencer-McDonald farming with Peter at Dipton; and teacher Patrice Spencer Humm with husband Robert at West Plains.

The Southland Times