Former Advertiser editor, columnist Madera A. Spencer turning 100

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In 1955, she was hired as the newspaper’s society editor, and would stay with the Advertiser for 27 years; On Oct. 8 the longtime fashion expert from Montgomery will celebrate her birthday.

Madera A. Spencer, who was a society editor and columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser for 27 years, turns 100 on Oct. 8, 2020. (Photo: Contributed)

The Montgomery Advertiser’s Jan. 5, 1955, issue had a busy front page with photos of two amazing women.

At the top was Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe. The other — buried below a dozen small stories — was the smiling face of 34-year-old Madera A. Spencer.

Then publisher R.P. Hudson had just hired Madera as the Advertiser’s society and fashion editor. She had already been published in national magazines and held presidential roles in several writer organizations.

Madera, who turns 100 on Oct. 8, would write several regular columns for the Advertiser over the next 27 years, including her widely acclaimed “People and Places.” She traveled the nation and the world for the Advertiser in search of the latest in fashions, trends, foods and arts. She also edited pages devoted to news for women and covered other stories from within the city.

In the story that announced her retirement on March 21, 1982, Madera said that through writing columns, you “almost become a participant in other people’s lives … The good things such as weddings and parties — so many were saved in scrapbooks — and you’ve really had a part of it.” 

Six years later, the Advertiser celebrated Madera by publishing a book of her columns called “The Best of Madera.”

In 2020, Madera still has an active mind and spirit. She spoke to the Advertiser by phone from her assisted living home in Auburn, where she keeps busy reading eBooks on her Kindle. She’s also a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves and other sports like golf. 

“I walked on the golf course nearly every morning before going to the office,” said Madera, who lived next to Montgomery Country Club for 60 years. 

When the Advertiser hired Madera, she was already married to John T. Spencer, and had a 12-year-old son, John T. Spencer Jr.  In the years that followed, her family grew. She has two grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, many cousins and other family. 

The almost-centenarian loves to share tales from her colorful life. It’s a safe bet many stories will be told when her family comes to Auburn from across Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.

“They’re going to let us have the front porch (of the assisted living home) for the family get-together,” said Linda Cates, Madera’s first cousin.

Though she knows her family will have to wear masks during these virus times, Madera said she’s looking forward to seeing everyone. 

Her fashion of writing

“There is a definite relationship between couture fashions and beauty culture, for one is dependent upon the other to produce a complete picture of good grooming and pleasant appearance,” Madera wrote in 1956. 

Styles have changed a lot since those days, to the point where Madera doesn’t even consider fashion to really exist for today’s general public.

“It’s gotten so casual,” she said. “Which is fine. That’s the lifestyle now.” 

Through her Advertiser columns written under five different publishers, she focused on women of her day and offered diet tips, makeup and hair style tips, advice on jewelry and, of course, the latest clothing styles. In Montgomery, she wrote about fashion highlights from places like the governor’s mansion and play productions at the Montgomery Little Theater.

With the Advertiser’s blessing and funding, she traveled by train from Montgomery to fashion shows in New York in January and July, and would wire daily articles back to the Advertiser. 

The Alabama Department of Archives and History offers a glimpse into her family during those trips, with a series of letters between Madera and her husband from 1956. 

“Honestly, it is freezing here and I’m not going to walk another block … Too cold. Will just have to spend the Advertiser’s money and get taxis everywhere. They surely wouldn’t want a frozen society editor,” she wrote from New York. “John T., honey, surely wish you and Johnny were here, too. I miss you both and love you both so much.” 

She signed it Deedie, her lifelong nickname. 

Her husband wrote back: “Honey, I do love you ever so much and if I have been unattentive lately I’m sorry and will sure love you to death when you come home. Oh by the way. Deedie, I am so damn proud of you and just beam with pride when anyone mentions what you are doing. I feel like I’m married to a prima donna.” 

She had similar trips from the Advertiser to Los Angeles, meeting with designers and then getting in-person interviews with Hollywood stars. 

“I would stay over and go to the movie studios,” said Madera, who could get access to actors and directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles.

The Advertiser also sponsored her on several tours of Europe, which she said began as an idea from Delta Airlines to take a group on a fashion tour. She would also tour Mexico and Asia.

“We went as far as Singapore,” Madera said. “That was interesting for me, and I think it was for the readers, too.” 

She also served a three-year appointment to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

“I went to Washington twice a year. I went to meetings in the Pentagon,” Madera said. “They would fly us to military installations all over the country.” 

Her reporting delved into other parts of Montgomery as well. She covered presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s 1964 jet arrival in Montgomery with his wife. She found unique features, like a 12-year-old Montgomery boy who flew to Greece, and then journeyed back alone by ship. She won an award for a interview with a Montgomery resident who had a sex change operation.

Asked what advice she’d have for today’s journalists, she kept it simple: Listen and don’t spin the story. 

As she turns 100, a quote she gave during her retirement has taken on new meaning. 

“When you are young, you have vitality and when you are older you are experienced and hopefully have gained wisdom,” she wrote. 

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel at [email protected].

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