Irving Spitzberg Jr, 1942-2023
From his days as a teen protesting school segregation in Little Rock to his days as an attorney helping asylum-seekers enter the country, Irving Spitzberg spent a lifetime aiding others. Irving Joseph Spitzberg, Jr., 81, of Gaithersburg, MD, died peacefully at Casey House, Montgomery County's in-patient hospice, on October 13, 2023, after an unsuccessful battle with cryptococcal meningitis.
Irving was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1942 to Irving J. Spitzberg, Sr. and Marie S. Spitzberg. Irving Jr. and his brother Paul always said they "won the parent lottery." Irving distinguished himself early as a young leader. During the Little Rock School Crisis, the moderate adults who created STOP (Stop This Outrageous Purge) asked him to organize his fellow students to help recall the segregationist school board members in a special election. Irving hesitated to give a quote to a reporter at the time for fear of potential retaliation. "But I can tell you it's the last time in my life I ever waffled," Irving said. "I learned that night not to worry about what other people think about me."
Irving later wrote a book on the subject, Racial Politics in Little Rock, among many other books and articles on scholarly topics. After high school, he attended Columbia University where he graduated cum laude, then studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University on a Kellit Fellowship. Later he was awarded a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Yale University's School of Law.
Irving had a wide-ranging career. He was always focused on higher education policy, leadership in all its contexts, and effective philanthropic action. Early in his career he studied international higher education policy as a Fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, including stints in England, Germany, and Kenya. Subsequently, he was a professor at Brown, the Claremont Colleges, and SUNY/Buffalo (where he served as Dean of the Colleges). Then he moved to the Washington, DC area to lead the American Association of University Professors as General Secretary and later to develop innovative programming as an executive at the Association of American Colleges. During the last years of his professional life, he practiced immigration law, advocating for political asylees while helping run The Knowledge Company, which he founded with his wife, Virginia Thorndike.
Irving and Virginia were married in 1988 and shared a magical marriage for nearly 35 years. They came together to be "partners in the work," whatever that would be. First, under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, they oversaw field work that led to the book Creating Community on College Campuses. Then they co-founded and ran the Knowledge Company, which evaluated the qualifications of foreign professionals seeking to work in the US. In retirement in Baltimore County, MD they shared volunteer activities such as furthering rural preservation in the North County and serving on the Board of the Immigration Outreach Service Center in Baltimore.
Irving was a wonderful father to his sons, Edward and David, always providing guidance and love. When the next generation came around, he reveled in his role as "Grampy". He treasured his time with his grandkids, discussing whatever they were learning in school or their many other interests. For every visit he would wear colorful suspenders and one of his flamboyant t-shirts, with fun sayings like, "Happy Dude!" and "Dads know a lot - Grandpas know everything!" His chosen family was even broader - Irving was close to many people who began their relationship as a student, employee, client, or colleague, but whose friendship grew to be lifelong and extended to their own families.
Irving's commitment to both service and his family across the generations can be summed up in his own words in a letter he wrote his son, Edward, upon Irving's mother Marie's passing: "Always remember that you have a legacy of leadership with a commitment to service. Also, learn the lessons that your Grandma and Grandpa's example taught: find a loving partner, be frugal, value your family, stay fit, and serve others." His ability to help those who loved him focus on what was important will be felt in their hearts forever.
Irving will always be remembered for his encyclopedic knowledge of, well, pretty much everything, and his love to share that knowledge with, well, pretty much everyone. He was, in his essence, an educator. He was also a centrist, a humanitarian who could identify with and show compassion toward everyone. We could not have asked for a better husband, parent, grandfather, and brother, and will miss Irving's irrepressible free spirit and ebullient love of life every day.
Irving is survived by his wife, Virginia Thorndike; two sons from his first marriage, Edward Storm Spitzberg and his wife Neesham Spitzberg, of Bethesda, MD and David Adam Spitzberg and his wife Mariana Spitzberg of Olney, MD; his grandchildren, Lulu Spitzberg, Mateo Spitzberg, and Tomas Spitzberg; and his brother, Paul Seeman Spitzberg and his wife Barbara Spitzberg of Tenafly, NJ.
A memorial celebration will be scheduled for a later date. In the spring, there will be a service at Temple B'nai Israel in Little Rock, the spiritual home of Spitzbergs for over 100 years. The family requests that no flowers be sent and that memorials be in the form of donations to Casey House (run by Montgomery Hospice, 301-921-4400; montgomeryhospice.org).