Why I do what I do...
My brother and best friend, Carson J. Spencer ("CJ"), died of suicide on December 7, 2004. Just a few weeks short of Christmas.
Meeting Carson is my earliest memory. Since he was born Christmas Eve, he came home to us shortly after, and I thought he was my Christmas present. I was so excited to have a little brother, and as we grew up, our bond of sibling friendship became my most cherished relationship. Throughout our youth and young adulthood, we were each other’s biggest cheerleaders and confidants. He could always make me laugh and would always be able to help me put my troubles into perspective.
When his bipolar condition escalated in 2004, I found myself struggling with how best to help him. On the last time I saw him, I tried to instill hope by saying, “Carson we will get through this,” to which he replied, “but Sally…it’s madness.” And less than a week later on December 7th, 2004, he took his life. Now, of course I am not certain what he was trying to tell me, but I have a pretty good idea.
Carson was a very determined man who found his way through all types of challenges in his life, and I believe that he would’ve found his way to the other side of his unbearable psychological pain, if he knew that when he got there he wouldn’t have to deal with the burden of the misperceptions and discrimination others have about mental illness. In other words, I think the personal shame and fear he had about his bipolar condition killed him more than the illness itself.
And that makes me so mad. I believe if he had seen other high profile, high performing men who had been “out” with their emotional challenges and were now thriving, he would’ve had hope that he could get there too. That he wasn’t alone. So this has become my mission and my way of honoring him: to get upstream from the crisis of suicide and prevent mental health
challenges from escalating to the point of becoming life threatening, and to let people know that they are not alone, that dignity is essential in the healing process, and that recovery is possible.
I believe Carson walks with me on this journey. Sometimes he offers me courage and clarity; other times, a kick in the pants.
Our relationship hasn’t ended; our bond continues.
Carson J. Spencer, 34, of Westminster, CO passed away on December 7, 2004.
He was born and raised in Glastonbury, Connecticut. He was a graduate of The Loomis-Chaffee School 1988 and of Bowdoin College 1993. He began his immensely successful sales career with Sun Life of Canada/Employee Benefits in Atlanta where he went on to achieve significant distinction that was recognized by the entire industry. At age 28 he opened the Denver office for Sun Life as Manager and continued to set the standard for sales success.
In 1999 he, with a Sun Life colleague, formed Beacon Risk Strategies, an employee benefit service company, with offices in Denver, Seattle and Wellesley, MA. Again, his achievements with Beacon set a high mark that was acknowledged by his peers around the country. At the time of his death he was applying his creative skills to the formation of U S Health, a company whose purpose with his vision was going to try to solve the problem of those without health insurance.
His passion for sports, which included golf, soccer (State Champs /age 13, prep-school varsity and college JV), lacrosse (prep-school and college varsity), ice hockey (prep-school JV) and skiing, was without equal.
He leaves his parents Robert T. and Joyce J. Spencer of Westminster; sister Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas and husband Randall R. Thomas, nephews, Nicholas, Tanner and Jackson of Conifer, Colorado and his Band of Bowdoin DEKE Brothers all over the country. In his short time with us he touched many hearts and made a difference. All will remember him for his appetite for life, his infectious sense of humor and his magical way of engaging people. He will be deeply missed.
Carson J Spencer, 34, ‘a star who burned out to quickly’
By Erika Gonzalez, Rocky Mountain News
December 20, 2004
When it came to business, Carson Spencer believed he could accomplish anything.
While in college, he sold encyclopedias door to door. He would drive as many as four hours a day each summer, persuading young parents to make an investment in their children’s future.
It was a challenge the ambitious entrepreneur not only met, but exceeded. Before long he was setting up satellite offices, training staff and selling enough sets to earn his team trips to Italy and Hawaii. “I thought, ‘If he could pull the encyclopedia thing off, he could do anything,’ ” said his father, Robert Spencer.
In recent years, the young businessman had set his sights on another formidable goal: starting a venture designed to address the problem of the nation’s uninsured working population.
But Mr. Spencer’s long battle with manic depression prevented him from fulfilling that dream. On Dec. 7, he took his own life. He was 34.
“This is a devastating illness and one which our society continues to stigmatize, which interfered with Carson pro-actively managing the disease properly,” explained Mr. Spencer’s wife, Heather.
Born and raised in Glastonbury, Conn., Mr. Spencer was an enterprising, athletic kid who spent much of his time skiing and playing soccer, lacrosse and hockey. But his entrepreneurial side also took root early.
At 12, he was delivering a weekly shopping guide to a territory that included 100 homes. At 15, he landed a job at a restaurant washing dishes. Within two weeks, he had talked his way into a busboy position.
The next year, still too young to wait tables, but armed with a driver’s license, Mr. Spencer focused on getting a job at neighboring Hartford’s finest restaurant. “He went over, came back and said, ‘I’m starting tonight as a busboy,’ ” recalled his father. “We would jokingly say that the next week he was going to be the general manager and the week after that, he’d be franchising it.”
After graduating from prep school, Mr. Spencer attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where he majored in economics. And thanks to his experience selling encyclopedias, Mr. Spencer had job offers before he even completed his degree. He joined Sun Life in Atlanta after graduation, and quickly become a sales star. The company eventually dispatched him to Denver to open a new office – one of the youngest staff members assigned such a task.
“I never knew him to not achieve a goal he set,” said Bob Powers, a friend and colleague. “He was by far, the best businessman I ever met.” In 1999, Mr. Spencer and a Sun Life colleague created Beacon Risk Strategies, which provides catastrophic insurance coverage for companies that self-insure their health plans. The thriving firm (which Robert Spencer says was started with a $1,000 investment by its founders) now has offices in Denver, Boston and Seattle.
In Mr. Spencer’s last year, he established US Health, which arranged contracts between employers and health care providers in a way that would benefit previously uninsured workers. “He wanted this to be his legacy,” said Heather Spencer. Mr. Spencer’s friends and family also say he was never too busy to reach out and help nurture the careers of others. “One of the things he enjoyed most in the sales area was seeing the people around him succeed,” Powers said.
Charming and good-looking, Powers said Mr. Spencer made friends easily. But the salesman still had a difficult time securing a first date with his wife, whom he met in Atlanta. Mr. Spencer called several times before she finally gave in.
“On the fourth call, he said, ‘OK, I’m putting my manhood on the line,’ ” laughed Heather Spencer.
They married in 1998 and she says her husband remained a hopeless romantic. For their first anniversary, Mr. Spencer surprised his wife with a hot-air balloon ride. When she became pregnant with their now nearly 3-year-old daughter, her husband found out the baby’s gender first, revealing the sex on Christmas Day by presenting a new car filled with pink balloons.
But when it comes to describing her husband’s short life, Heather Spencer reaches for her mother’s words rather than her own: “She said he was a star who shone so brightly that he just burned out too quickly.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Spencer is survived by his daughter, Kaija Spencer; his parents, Robert T. and Joyce J. Spencer, of Westminster; and sister, Dr. Sally Spencer- Thomas, of Conifer.