Former Cove Theatre manager Spence Wilson, 99, dies on Thanksgiving Day

Spence Wilson photographed in 2005 by Tom Mangelsen.
Spence Wilson photographed in 2005 by Tom Mangelsen.

Spence Wilson, former manager of The Cove Theatre who was a substitute “dad” to a generation of La Jollans, died Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 24, just nine months shy of his 100th birthday.

A La Jolla Kiwanis Club member for more than 70 years, Wilson was a close friend of wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen who has an art gallery in town.

“Spence Wilson died rather quickly on Thanksgiving morning,” e-mailed lifelong friend Nancy Miller. “He had a really good day the day before, but it appeared that his heart just got tired out. He was rushed to the ER at Scripps LJ.”

Of Wilson Mangelsen said, "Spence had a gift with people, although he didn’t necessarily like everyone he met, I never met anyone who didn’t like him. I think his early life was built on a strong foundation of family values that came from growing up in Randsburg, a small mining town, in the Mojave Desert. His parents taught him honesty, honor and hard work. He helped build the town jail when he was 7 or 8. He was not only an extra in the Will Rogers movies in Randsburg but went to school with Gregory Peck in La Jolla. He had regular coffee meetings with Charles Lindberg and he helped “Charlie” launch his gliders off the bluffs south of Pacific Beach. Spence also knew the likes of J. Edgar Hoover who secretly came through the back door of The Cove Theater when Spence was manager. He knew stories about J. Edgar that I’m sure never made it into the current movie. Spence loved the movies and I think took away the best of humanity and human qualities found in those honorable characters and roles played by Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck and Henry Fonda."

Mangelsen said of Wilson's character, "Spence’s kindness, generosity and deep love of family, friends, children and animals will long be remembered. His sparkling blue eyes and impish smile will always be there for us to reflect upon. Spence has left en enduring mark on many of our hearts. Edward Spencer Wilson had a rich life. I feel blessed and eternally grateful for being a part of it. 'Pops' you are missed very much but will never be forgotten."

Walter Robertson, Jr., another lifelong friend of Wilson’s, recalls Spence delivered milk as one of his many part-time jobs when he was a youngster.

“He managed the Granada and Cove theatres for 60 years and knew every adult and their kids,” Robertson said. “Many of us worked for Spence at the theaters. He was our ‘grandfather,’ and straightened us out when we got out of line.”

Robertson added Spence was “Mr. La Jolla” during the ‘40s through the ‘60s when “it was a small, quaint town.”

Wilson had been retired for many years. He had been living at the White Sands of La Jolla for several of those years, in an independent apartment for a few years, and then a full-care facility for the past 4 ½ years.

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