Archived Story

Spears leaves legacy of fearlessness

Published 12:00am Sunday, February 12, 2012

Being a transplant from North Carolina and only living in the Tri-State less than two years, I sometimes feel I am at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to the history of Lawrence County.

Common knowledge to most usually isn’t to me.

When I was given an assignment last year to interview a long-time Ironton attorney, the recipient of a lifetime achievement award, I had no idea who I was about to meet.

But by the end of our interview, I knew I had just spoken to someone extraordinary.

Harold Spears, who passed away last week, certainly left an unexpected impression on me. One that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

As I sat next to him in his living room, Mr. Spears began to tell a story that just as well could have come from a best-selling 1950s crime novel.

Gambling. Murders. Mafia syndicates. And he was in the center of it all as Lawrence County’s no-nonsense prosecutor back when Ironton was known as “Little Chicago.”

Mr. Spears explained that an FBI agent warned him his picture would be in the hands of every big restaurant or nightclub owner from Cincinnati all the way up to Parkersburg and there was a real threat he could be murdered.

Spears recalled the conversation for me: “Do you know what you’re getting into?” the agent said. “They’ll kill you.”

Spears, a WWII Navy combat veteran, simply said, “Well the Japanese couldn’t.”

I was practically on the edge of my seat. I could have listened to him for hours.

I knew without a doubt I would need to commit his words to memory, that I would likely never again get the chance to hear such stories from someone this remarkable.

As thrilling as his tales of cleaning up Lawrence County were, his recollection of WWII was even more amazing.

Stationed in the Pacific, Spears experienced attacks by kamikaze planes, torpedo planes, bombers, mine fields and numerous other types of artillery.

He teared up a bit as he told of seeing the flag after it was raised on Mt. Suribachi.

Spears told of several near misses, how he knew he was God-protected through it all. Then he said something I know I’ll never forget.

“I just had a wonderful war,” Spears said, smiling with an unflinching patriotism.

And that was just his attitude. His life was an adventure. He knew it, and he took none of it for granted.

A few weeks ago, I had my second and last interview with Harold Spears. Again I sat beside him in his living room as he told an amazing recollection of the 1937 Flood. I am truly thankful for that opportunity.

I didn’t know Mr. Spears very long compared to those who have grown up here and have been influenced by his example for many years. But in the brief time I knew him, I can say I learned an invaluable lesson.

If I can be as strong in my convictions as Mr. Spears was in his, if I can be fearless in uncertain situations, if I can be humble and gracious, I’ll live a life full of adventure and free of regret.


Michelle Goodman, a North Carolina native and Ashland, Ky., resident, is a reporter with The Tribune. She can be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 27 or via email at

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