Colleagues Remember Long-Time Administrator Harry Spence As The 'Ideal Public Servant'

Harry Spence answers a reporter's question in 2006. (David Goldman/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Harry Spence answers a reporter's question in 2006. (David Goldman/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Long-time public servant Harry Spence is being remembered as someone who enjoyed trying to improve troubled agencies in Massachusetts.

Spence died of heart failure this week. He was 74 years old.

For decades, Spence was often put in charge of revamping public agencies, from the Boston Housing Authority, the State Department of Social Services ( now the State Department of Children and Families), the city of Chelsea as a receiver, and the Massachusetts Trial Court, where he served as its first administrator after a 2011 reform law. Spence retired from the position in 2017.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey called Spence's death "a devastating loss."

"Harry Spence left an indelible mark on the Trial Court," Carey said in a statement. "Every day we build on our collective work. He was a visionary who valued diversity, equity and access to justice. He left our court system and the world a better place. "

“The court system owes a debt to Harry Spence, our first court administrator," said State Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd in a statement. "He brought the Trial Court through a time of great growth and change and we will long remember his exceptional service."

During his time at trial court administrator, Spence worked closely with the Massachusetts Bar Association. Martin W. Healy, the Association's chief legal counsel and chief operating officer said Spence "handled challenges with great diplomacy while balancing the interests of key court constituencies."

“Throughout his many years working for the commonwealth, Harry was the go-to state official to clean up seemingly intractable problems," Healy said in a statement "He will be remembered as the ideal public servant, who served the commonwealth with distinction and professionalism.”

Spence grew up in New Jersey and attended the Groton School, Harvard and Harvard Law School.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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