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Tim Spencer died in Shanghai a week ago — and he's still there

Tim Spencer, 61, died in a crash in China. His body has not been returned to the United States.

Tim Spencer, 61, died in a crash in China. His body has not been returned to the United States.

It was a short commute for a long flight home, and Tim Spencer knew it well. A cab would take him from his hotel to the airport, where he would catch a 17-hour flight from Shanghai, China, to Detroit.

A few more hours from there, and the stocky traveler would walk through the door of his summer home in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, where his wife would be waiting.

When winter approached, they would return to their home in St. Petersburg.

In a year and a half Mr. Spencer would retire from MacDermid, an engineering company where he had worked as a chemist for 30 years. In retirement, he would bake pizza in an outdoor oven he had built himself and make wine.

Now those dreams have been destroyed.

Mr. Spencer died in a car crash Friday as his cab driver entered Shanghai Pudong International Airport. He was 61.

Devastated family members are trying to cope with an additional layer of suffering: A week after the crash, his body remains in a Shanghai hospital morgue. Despite lawyers, translators and company executives working with Shanghai authorities daily, a crash investigation and reams of required paperwork have prevented even his embalming.

"The Chinese bureaucratic red tape has exhausted me emotionally … I cannot understand why they do this," his wife Joanne wrote to the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

Colleagues are now missing a distinct personality, quiet and attentive, the kind of friend who once read a book about Ecuadoran coffee because a friend was thinking about buying a roaster and importing it.

"There was never a time when I asked him a question and he said, 'I don't know,' " said Richard Retallick, MacDermid's director of electronics packaging. "His respect was such that he was listened to because he was so authoritative."

Timothy Wood Spencer was born in Canandaigua, N.Y., in 1952, the son of a Methodist minister and a mother who was a teacher. As a child he excelled at tennis, the piano and especially chess, in which he rose to the rank of master. He graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in chemistry. Mr. Spencer then bicycled more than 1,000 miles between chess tournaments along the eastern United States.

In 1983 Mr. Spencer started at MacDermid, which designs circuit boards and other high-tech products. In 1987 he married chemical engineer Joanne Shea. They worked in separate divisions of MacDermid.

In breaks between jobs, he built a wine cellar in their St. Petersburg home, read science fiction and books about wine making. He enjoyed socializing with friends, but even then he listened more than he talked.

"He had this laugh — tee-hee— coming out of this big, burly body," said Joanne Spencer, 65.

Their work followed globalization, from the United States and Europe to Asian countries — where today MacDermid does 90 percent of its business, Retallick said.

In recent years, he increasingly looked forward to his breaks at the home he had built on the side of a steep hill near Naples, N.Y. He had built the home on 25 acres in 2005. He enjoyed sitting on a large deck and watching the windmills on the next hill.

He had tried his hand twice at growing grapes for wine, and currently had 150 vines growing on the property. So far, four bottles of red wine have emerged from his grapes.

Mr. Spencer was a project manager and an expert in the metallization of plastics, a process that increases the connectivity of circuit boards. He was about to conclude another three-week stint in Shanghai, and last talked to his wife by phone July 25.

He left for the airport July 26. Retallick later got a phone call from the Shanghai police, who had found his number in Mr. Spencer's cellphone.

The driver, police said, had turned to ask Mr. Spencer where he wanted to be dropped off — and slammed into a parked car.

Retallick had to call Joanne Spencer to deliver the news.

Countries, including the United States, often place numerous requirements on anyone wanting to ship a body to another country. These can include embalming, a letter testifying that the person did not die of a contagious disease, agreements that must be translated, and sealing the casket inside a metal box.

"It can be a lengthy process," said John McQueen, of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, which will handle Mr. Spencer's funeral arrangements. "I usually tell them it will be a couple of weeks."

The investigation into the crash triggers more delays. Even after police have issued citations or charges, all parties involved — including funeral homes — must wait three days in order to give the accused party a chance to appeal any charges.

Until that process has run its course, authorities will not issue a death certificate for Mr. Spencer. His wife gets daily updates from Retallick. She hopes her husband's body can be shipped out of Shanghai late next week.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Timothy Wood Spencer

Born: June 27, 1952

Died: July 26, 2013

Survivors: wife, Joanne Spencer; son, Christopher Spencer; stepdaughter, Candace Pendry; brother, Terry Spencer; and one stepgrandchild

Tim Spencer died in Shanghai a week ago — and he's still there 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 11:33pm]
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