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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2010

DOREEN CANADAY SPITZTER, 1914-2010: Prominent ex-Toledoan a lover of Greek history

BLADE STAFF

Doreen Canaday Spitzer, a member of two prominent Toledo families whose affinity for all things Greek fit easily with her background as an archaeologist and classics devotee, died Sept. 6 in her Princeton, N.J., home. She was 95.

Her son, Nicholas C. Spitzer, said the cause of death was believed to be congestive heart failure. Even as his mother failed physically, "her mind was clear and crisp… She was happy to greet people she hadn't seen in years," he explained.

She and her late husband, Lyman Spitzer, Jr., long of the Princeton University faculty and a renowned physicist, moved to Princeton in 1948.

She was the only child of Ward and Mariam Canaday. Her father, an industrialist and financier, was chairman and president of the former Willys-Overland Motors Inc., which became famous in World War II as the manufacturer of the Jeep.

Willys-Overland, under Mr. Canaday, was the first U.S. automaker to convert completely to war production.

Mrs. Spitzer grew up on Brookside Road in Ottawa Hills. In 1940, she married her husband, a Toledoan whose grandfather, A.L. Spitzer, built the downtown Spitzer Building, and whose father, Lyman, founded the former Spitzer Paper Box Co.

Her husband, who died in 1997, in turn became world renowned as an astrophysicist and is considered the father of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Mrs. Spitzer's mother "was a great enthusiast for antiquity and Greek mythology," according to her son, and this shaped what would become the abiding intellectual passion of Mrs. Spitzer's life - Hellenic archaeology and civilization.

Mrs. Spitzer majored in archaeology at Bryn Mawr College, graduating in 1936, and spent the following year in Greece, at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

She worked on excavations at ancient Corinth and traveled throughout the Levant. Indulging a taste for adventure, and following in the footsteps of Byron, she swam the Hellespont, the ancient name of the strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara in Turkey.

"Where physical activity was concerned, she had a fearlessness about her that was extraordinary," said her son, who is a neurobiologist at the University of California San Diego.

Over the years, she would return to Greece with her children and grandchildren on adventurous vacations. They climbed Mount Parnassus and gazed down on Delphi. They reached the summit of a mountain with a castle on top overlooking Corinth and sailed the Mediterranean, and all the while Mrs. Spitzer was the engaged tour guide, expounding on the glories of ancient Greek history.

Her adventurous spirit carried over into other vacations. During her husband's sabbaticals, the family lived abroad, most often in Paris. In 1955, in Switzerland, they climbed the Matterhorn, and in France 11 years later, Mont Blanc.

In 1978, when she and her husband were in their 60s, the couple completed a hiking trip through Nepal.

For 39 years, Mrs. Spitzer held a house party in celebration of Greek Independence Day. She invited Princeton's Greek-American community and classics scholars from the university to eat Greek food and dance Greek dances.

Lyman Spitzer of Perrysburg, her nephew through marriage, said that in conversation, "she would approach you on a personal level. But if you happened to get into an academic discussion, her depth would show quickly."

Mrs. Spitzer also was active in civic causes.

She organized the annual Bryn Mawr Book Sale, volunteered at the House of Soul in Trenton, N.J., and was a docent at the Princeton University Art Museum.

She and her husband helped establish the Princeton Unitarian Universalist Church, where she taught Sunday school for eight years.

She also wrote two privately published books: By One and One, a biography of her parents, and As Long as You Both Shall Live, a memoir of her own 57-year marriage.

Surviving are her son, Nicholas C. Spitzer; daughters, Dionis Griffin, Sarah Saul, and Lydia Spitzer; 13 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in the Princeton Unitarian Universalist Church.

The family suggests tributes to Bryn Mawr College, the American School of Classical Studies, or the Princeton Watershed Association.


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