- Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was born on September 20, 1888 in Kinsley, Kansas, United States of America, and died on May 29, 1950 in Coronada, California, United States of America.
Unlike other famous early aviation pioneers, there is no trading/collector card for Commander Earl Winfield Spencer Jr.
When I came across the name… all I could wonder is… I wonder if he’s related to… naw, couldn’t be… let’s find out.
Turns out he was related… but wait… you have no idea what I am talking about.
Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was the first husband of Wallis…
Wallis Spenser was perhaps better known by her second husband’s name… Wallis Simpson…
She was the American divorcee who later married the man who was in line to become Great Britain’s King Edward VIII, who abdicated his throne to marry her, which, of course, changed the whole British royal line of succession, as his unprepared brother Bertie (Albert Frederick Arthur George) became King George VI upon their father’s death in 1936.
King George VI was the father to current monarch Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch… in the world, I believe. Ever. As a Canadian born in England, I learned about succession via coin collecting.
But we aren’t here to talk about royals, though that is the exact reason why I am talking about Win, as Earl Winfield Spencer Jr. was known.
Like King George VI, he was born during the reign of Queen Victoria. Unlike George VI, who went by the name Albert amongst family and friends and was named after Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, Win was named after Earl Winfield Spencer Sr.
Okay… that’s the last of the royal name dropping. I think.
He attended Racine College in Racine, Wisconsin, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1910, and in 1917 was sent to San Diego with instructions to set up a permanent naval air station, which was to be used for training exercises, and he became its first Commanding Officer.
This was the Naval Air Station – really… that’s its name. It is located at the north end of the Coronado peninsula on San Diego Bay, and is currently the home port of several aircraft carriers of the United States Navy. It is part of the largest aerospace-industrial complex in the United States Navy—Naval Base Coronado.
Aside from starting the Naval Air Station, Spencer Jr. was pretty much defined by the company he kept, notably his wives… and who those wives knew.
Spencer was married four times:
- Bessie Wallis Warfield (1896–1986), only child of Teackle Wallis Warfield, member of a prominent Maryland family; they married in Baltimore on November 8 (my birthday!), 1916. The marriage wasn’t the best, as Spencer was alleged to have been abusive and an alcoholic. After several trial separations, they divorced in December of 1927. After a SECOND marriage, to Ernest Aldrich Simpson, and a subsequent divorce, Wallis married the former King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom and became the Duchess of Windsor, but without the styling of being called “Her Royal Highness”.
- Mariam J. Ham (1895–1997) was from Portland, Oregon. Mariam and Spencer married in September of 1928 and were divorced in 1936, the same year Spencer was made a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy by Benito Mussolini. Yup… apparently our American flyboy had a thing for Fascists. Mariam’s FIRST husband was Albert Cressey Maze who brought along a stepson, Robert Claude Maze Sr., a Major in the US Marine Corp., who was KIA (killed in action) in 1945. Mariam married a THIRD time in 1939 to Arthur William Radford, who was the Vice Admiral of the United States Navy, and later the second Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Radford was also an aviator. After the U.S. entered World War II, he was the architect of the development and expansion of the Navy’s aviator training programs in the first years of the war.
- Norma Reese (1891–1944) was the widow of Homer Sturdevant Johnson, a Detroit manufacturer who died in 1928. Norma married Spencer in Los Angeles, California on July 4, 1937. Spencer now gained two stepdaughters: Betty L. Johnson, an actress and songwriter (married Balie Peyton Legare Jr. (1908–1984), a jazz musician, whom she divorced in 1942) and Kathryne Johnson (born circa 1912, married Dell Myron Wade Jr). Because what woman doesn’t mind sharing their special day, the Spencers’ wedding was a double wedding with Betty and Peyton Legare, whose previous wedding in Tijuana, Mexico, was not considered valid by California law. Spencer and Norma separated on February 9, 1940, and were divorced later that year. Each claimed cruelty as the ground for the divorce.
- Lillian Margaret Phillips (1892–1981), daughter of Robert A. and Ella Burgess Phillips, whom he married October 2, 1941.
Believe it or not, for Spencer, the fourth time was the charm. His marriage to Lillian lasted until his death do they part in May 29, 1950, with Lillian herself lasting until 1981.
Both are buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.
But, despite this, I can not find a true link that our aviator and Princess Diana are related… though I suspect they are, only because of the family name.
That’s all folks… Spencer’s claim to fame was helping to start up a naval base, and for being the first husband of a woman who would on HER third try at marriage take down a lineage of the British monarchy… or, if you prefer, made the British monarchy what it is today.