Former state Sen. Spears passes away

The Elkins community not only lost a hardworking political leader this weekend – it lost a dedicated pioneer.

Former state Sen. Ursula Jae Spears, 90, passed away at her home in Elkins on Saturday following a distinguished career of “firsts.”

Born in Latonia, Ky., on Jan. 5, 1923, Spears served as a House of Delegates member for six years and as a state senator for 12 years.

She was the first woman to serve as a Senate Majority Whip and the first and only woman to chair the state Senate Finance Committee, according to her obituary.

After attending the University of Kentucky, Spears was first elected to the state Legislature in 1974 as one of only eight women in the 100-member House of Delegates. In 1980, she garnered enough votes to become one of only two women elected to the state Senate.

Spears was an avid supporter of many causes, including literacy, veterans and the National Guard, health care and small family farmers.

She won numerous awards in her career, including the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women, or NOW.

Locally, she was a board member of the Elkins YMCA and founded the first women’s exercise program and nursery there.

On Sunday, local officials and friends reflected on Spears’ personal qualities and political accomplishments.

Randolph County Commissioner Mike Taylor, who attended his school with Spears’ son, Larry, called Spears “a very dedicated public servant.”

“She was a very dedicated community member as well,” Taylor said. “She has been very gracious in serving the state of West Virginia throughout her term in the state Legislature.”

Elizabeth “Bunny” Mow, a Buckhannon resident and member of Upshur County Democratic Women, remembers how seriously Spears took her role in state government.

“I knew her as a legislator, and she cared deeply about what she did,” Mow said Sunday. “She served her constituents. She was the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for a year, and that’s quite an accomplishment for a woman. She was certainly very cordial and helpful to me and she threw great parties.”

If there’s one thing Elkins resident Gary Schoonover admired Spears for, it was her willingness to listen to her constituents. Schoonover recalled working with Spears while she was a senator and he was a member of the Democratic Executive Committee.

“The thing I appreciated most about her was that she showed a genuine interest in problems and what issues and what solutions we might be able to offer,” Schoonover remarked. “The fact that she was interested in listening meant a great deal. She’ll be missed.”