I set out in June to write a story for the current issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine about the state of the idea of local control of schools. I started with the expectation of saying local control was pretty much a fiction now, amid all the laws and regulatory mandates coming down from the federal and state governments.
The first person I went to talk to was Mike Spector. I knew if I wanted wisdom, perspective, and common sense, he was at the top of the list. And he knew a huge amount about schools – for decades, he was a leader as a lawyer and citizen in education matters in the Milwaukee area and throughout Wisconsin.
And it only took him a few minutes to shift my thinking on the piece I was going to write. He talked about the law on local control in Wisconsin. He talked about the history of specific issues. And he pointed out how local school boards, school administrators, and teachers can still put their own imprint on the education they offer. Look at how different communities have different education cultures and practices, he said, citing his home community of Shorewood, where he was involved in school governance for many years, and how its education culture differs from nearby communities.
Wisdom, perspective, and common sense – I asked for it, I got it, and with a gentleness and sweetness that was so much a part of Mike’s character. He changed my approach to that story – as the final result shows – just as he had helped with my perspective on other education issues over the years.
We had a leisurely visit that afternoon at his home. Sadly, my business took up only a few minutes. The rest focused on Mike’s health. He was dealing with cancer. He was making the best of it and he was confident that his doctors were giving him the best chance of beating it that they could. But I could see how drained he was.
Last week, he lost the battle – and the legal community of Milwaukee, the education community of Milwaukee, in fact, the entire community of Milwaukee lost a genuine public servant. Not to mention a really nice guy.
The classified death notice in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gave a great summary of Mike’s approach to his work and to community service:
“Mike was a practical problem-solver who led by example and always sought to bring out the best in those whom he managed. His leadership style emphasized common sense, a sensitivity to the long-term good of the organization, collaboration, inclusiveness and calm consensus-building.”
The newspaper’s feature obituary on Mike may be found by clicking here.
Mike was a Harvard Law School graduate, but he was a supporter of Marquette Law School for years. His late father, Paul Spector, was a Marquette lawyer, and Mike established a scholarship at Marquette Law School in memory of his father.
I got to know Mike better in the last several years – we were both involved at the Law School, where he served for a period as the Robert E. Boden Visiting Professor of Law, after retiring from his long and distinguished career with Quarles & Brady. I felt he brought out the best in me, and he was a help and friend to anyone at the Law School who interacted with him.
Mike was involved extensively in public service, including a term in recent years as president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and his membership, until his illness made it too much, on the BMO Bradley Center board.
A loss, a sadness, but a time to think with great respect about a life of service. Mike Spector was 74. A memorial service is being planned.