Spence, who retired at the end of 2014 from his most recent post covering the aviation beat for General Aviation News, was a pilot with single-engine, multiengine, and instrument ratings who once wrote that his interest in flying was what channeled him to aviation journalism during a 76-year career he called “a great ride.”
Spence was remembered by AOPA President Mark Baker for his dedicated work on behalf of the general aviation family.
“Charlie was a vocal advocate for pilots and AOPA members, and a true believer in the value and importance of general aviation. Never afraid to do battle for what he believed, Charlie had a way of getting straight to the point and distilling complex issues to their essence. During his years at AOPA and beyond, he worked tirelessly to ensure that general aviation got a fair shake. He will be greatly missed,” Baker said.
Spence was born in New Albany, Indiana. He was drawn to newspapers at an early age, working evenings and after school at The Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal and Times beginning at age 16. Upon his graduation he worked full time, doing art work for the newspaper’s circulation promotion department, he recalled in a memoir written on the occasion of his retirement.
Spence wrote that he went on to work for the Cincinnati Enquirer. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, he took a position as promotion manager of The Oakland, California, Post-Enquirer, a Hearst newspaper.
He continued with the organization as promotion manager of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, and four years later, moved to New York City to work for Hearst Promotion Enterprises.
Having become a pilot, Spence began his work in aviation journalism at Flying Magazine, and moved to the nation’s capital to work for the Utility Airplane Council, a forerunner of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association that represented general aviation and engine manufacturers during a period of rapid growth in the industry.
Spence worked at AOPA from 1968 to 1983 and was senior vice president of public relations from 1980 to 1983. He was a colleague and the biographer of Max Karant, who founded AOPA Pilot magazine in 1958.
After some time freelancing for the FLYER newspaper, predecessor of General Aviation News, Spence began reporting for the publication from Washington, D.C.
Spence is the father of Craig Spence, the secretary general of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations and an advisor to AOPA on security issues.