Posted: Oct. 27, 2011
TERRY SPENCE'S HOMELESS PORTRAIT
By Celia Cohen
Terry Spence had his portrait painted. Now if only he had a place to put it.
Spence, a glad-handing, golf-playing, good-to-know-you type, was the Republican speaker of the state House of Representatives for 20 years running, a record not only in Delaware but in the country. He lost his seat in the Democratic takeover in 2008.
Old speakers generally fade away. Spence wanted to see what a little paint could do.
It does not take telepathic powers to divine where Spence would like his portrait to find some wall space. All together now. Legislative Hall in Dover.
"I would truly be honored," Spence said.
Lately Spence has been dancing around and whining to anybody who would listen that his ex-colleagues are ignoring him and his portrait, although to hear Spence tell it, other people are the ones mentioning it to him.
"If it never happens, it's not life or death for me, but some of my friends, they keep asking," he said.
Normally Spence could moan all he wants to, and people might not care, except for one thing. His portrait was painted by Tubby Raymond, who coached championship football at the University of Delaware, and everybody loves Raymond.
"It's a fantastic painting. There are two things bad about it. It's too good for my painting, and it looks too good to be him," Raymond quipped.
Portraiture is Raymond's second act, a pastime he started years ago by painting his football players. His portrait of Ruth Ann Minner, the former governor, is in the Milford library. Another one of Carla Markell, the first lady, is in the private family quarters in Woodburn, the governor's house in Dover. Proceeds from the portraits go to the Tubby Raymond Foundation for charitable causes.
The portrait of Spence is just finished. He saw it for the first time Wednesday, when he showed up for a look and brought along Mike Harkins, the ex-secretary of state who also thinks the portrait is a wonderful idea. It sure beats a mug shot.
Raymond let them take the portrait with them to show Spence's wife, even though not all of the money for the painting's $5,000 price tag has been raised yet. So what if people have been known to count their fingers after shaking hands with politicians. Raymond truly has a trusting heart.
Legislative Hall naturally is stuffed full of portraits. The governors go there as a matter of course. This is the way the state came to own a Jamie Wyeth, who painted Charles Terry in imperial profile, and a Charles Parks, who did not do a portrait but a bust of Russell Peterson.
Past legislators can be displayed, too, like Herman Holloway Sr., the first African-American senator, and Richard Cordrey, the Senate's longest-serving president pro tem. They got there the only way possible -- through Legislative Council, a committee drawn from the House and Senate leadership.
Nothing transpires in Legislative Hall without Legislative Council. (Not unless it is a $50,000 doorway for a certain president pro tem.)
"You can't hang anything without Legislative Council, or else you get hung," Cordrey cracked.
Spence knows. He was sitting on Legislative Council himself when Cordrey's portrait was approved, but never mind. Instead, he keeps hinting around, making a mountain out of a molehill, as if the molehill should come to him, not him to the molehill.
The topic came up when Spence happened to run into Greg Lavelle, the House's Republican minority leader, at a school volleyball game not long ago. Lavelle responded with impressive mastery of the skills that got him to the leadership and a seat on Legislative Council. He gave Spence a contribution toward the painting and otherwise punted.
"I don't think the portrait is entirely inappropriate. Terry is certainly up there in the echelon of Delawareans who have served the state for a long time. I don't know the Emily Post of hanging it on the wall or not hanging it on the wall," Lavelle said.
Spence tried again when he found himself sitting next to Bob Gilligan, the House's Democratic speaker who is the incoming chair of Legislative Council, at the funeral last month for Joseph Sczcerba, the New Castle County Police lieutenant killed in the line of duty.
Spence wanted to know if people disliked him so much that they did not want his portrait in Legislative Hall. It was the first Gilligan heard of it.
"I don't know what I said, [something like] there are rumors floating around that you turned down my portrait. I said something cute to him, and I was waiting for him to say something cute back, but he didn't say anything," Spence said.
Gilligan had something to say now. "Mr. Spence never said a word to me about this until Lt. Sczcerba's funeral. How do you do this without coming to the speaker of the House and the president pro tem? Richard Cordrey and Herman Holloway didn't just bring their portraits in one day and hang them," he said.
"I'm concerned, because I have the greatest respect for Tubby Raymond."
This is not the first time around Legislative Hall that Spence's head became a problem.
It happened while Spence was the speaker. He was out for knee surgery when the House membership posed for a picture for an official history of the General Assembly by Carol Hoffecker. He managed to be included, anyway, with a little computer magic that grafted his head onto the duplicated body of Wayne Smith, then the Republican majority leader.
The situation with the portrait is not likely to go away. Not with Tubby Raymond also working on paintings of Thurman Adams, the late president pro tem, and Nancy Cook, the ex-senator who was the longtime co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee. Oy.