HARTFORD, Conn. — Robert Spiegel’s passion for Russian literature, the New York Mets, ethnic cooking and beagles endeared him to generations of students and colleagues at Central Connecticut State University. Now, through the power of social media, the 77-year-old former English professor’s obituary is charming strangers, as well.
Spiegel, a resident of the Hartford suburb of Berlin and a native of New York City, died Wednesday after a struggle with cardiac disease and dementia. He was eulogized in a quirky obituary written by his son that appeared Friday in central Connecticut newspapers.
It quickly started spreading on strangers’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, usually accompanied by the readers’ admissions they did not know him — but wished they had, based on the richly detailed obituary.
“Whereas the disease did thankfully erase most memories of the ‘62 Mets season, it eventually also claimed his life,” his obituary read, referring to his beloved team’s 40-120 record.
Friends and family say the obituary and its response are a fitting coda for the life of a man who loved spurring conversation, whether it was about good writing, New York sports teams or the satisfaction of sipping a high-quality single malt Scotch whiskey.
“He was a very humble man, and reaching some level of postmortem fame would really please him. I’m sure he would have been delighted by it, and surprised,” said Kevin Lynch, a fellow English professor emeritus at Central Connecticut who worked with Spiegel for 32 years.
Spiegel was a high school teacher in Brooklyn before joining Central Connecticut State’s faculty in 1965. He was accompanied on his move by his wife, Ursula, whom he met on a blind date under New York City’s Washington Square arch.
He took a reputation at Central Connecticut as a teacher who could leave a roomful of students entranced by anything from Dostoyevsky to the literature of baseball — something his obituary called “a thinly veiled therapy to alleviate the trauma he sustained from coaching arguably the worst Little League team in recorded (or unrecorded) history and from the sufferings he endured from 40 years as a devout Mets fan.”
Such lines in his obituary were what caught the eye of many strangers Friday, some of whom pondered in Facebook postings whether Spiegel had written his death notice.
Though his family would have liked that, they said, the progress of his dementia made it impossible. It was written by his son, Jeff, who described himself in the obituary as someone “who, if nothing else to show from his lineage, inherited his father’s sardonic sense of humor.”