“Of some men much is asked; to others much is given.” Of Frank Spain, much has been asked and much has been given, and to many, he has given much.
Frank Edward Spain was born October 11, 1891, in Memphis, Tennessee, to John Bett Kennedy Spain, a well-known Methodist minister, and Ida Lockard Spain, a former director of music at Troy Seminary.
By the time that Frank Spain was a teenager, he had decided he wanted to become a doctor. Thus, when he graduated from Barton Academy in Mobile, he enrolled in the Southern University at Greensboro, from which he earned an A.B. degree in pre-medical studies in 1910.
Shortly after young Frank graduated, his father died. In subsequent months he tried various types of employment.
Perhaps, he was thinking about his father’s earlier suggestion about a career in law-”No no higher tribute can be paid to any man than to seek his counsel. No higher service could a man render than to give it.” In 1912, he entered The University of Alabama School of Law. Even though the curriculum in those days was designed to cover a period of three years, Spain earned his law degree in only 18 months.
The year 1917 was momentous in the life of the young lawyer. He was appointed Birmingham’s Assistant City Attorney; he met and married Margaret Ketcham Cameron, a gracious and talented daughter of one of Birmingham’s oldest families; and he answered his country’s call to war and became an artillery officer.
After World War I, Spain found himself in Washington, D. C., with some questions as to where his career would lead.
But, at that point, he received a letter from the father of a young lawyer friend of his, Phares Coleman. The letter asked Spain to take the place in the partnership planned for his recently deceased son. Thus began the long connection with the law firm that became Spain, Gillon, Riley, Tate, and Etheredge.
As Spain immersed himself in the years of the Roaring Twenties, he made contact with two of his boyhood friends: Frank Samford and Bob Davison. With these gentlemen, he became active in the Liberty Life Assurance Society, a small fraternal society with assets of only about $600,000 and total insurance in force of barely three million. To permit the society to become an old-line legal reserve stock life insurance company, Frank Spain and others helped draft, and seek passage of necessary legislation. As a result, in 1929, the name of the society was changed to Liberty National Life Insurance Company. Spain became the general counsel and a member of the board of directors.
Courage, faith, and hard work for the company by Spain and others pa1d off. In 1943, Spain became the Vice President of the Company, a position he held until he became Director Emeritus in the 1970s.
Frank Spain was also involved in other enterprises. Until it was sold in the 1960s to a New York conglomerate, he served as an officer, director, and legal counsel for the Dinkier Hotel Company. In the early years of his career, he and Hudson Barker formed the Bankers’ Mortgage and Bond Company. They, in conjunction with Richard Massey, bought the corner of Third Avenue and Twenty-first Street in Birmingham and constructed what has come to be known as the Massey Building.
Spain was also an officer, director, and general counsel for Odum, Bowers, and White Department Stores, and, in the 1940s, became an officer and director of the Magic City Food Products, Inc., a small local manufacturer of snack items, which grew to be Golden Enterprises, a conglomerate and parent company of Golden Flake Snack Foods, Inc.
As a nationally known insurance attorney, Spain has served as the representative of numerous well-known insurance companies, and as a matter of fact, helped to reorganize at least one of these national insurance corporations.
While actively involved in these business ventures, Spain was contributing his services to his state, his nation, and his city. Because of his many years as a member of the board of directors and as appeals chairman for the Jefferson County Community Chest, he was appointed an honorary life member of that board. Spain further served by being Chairman of the Alabama War Chest in 1945; the Alabama Society of Crippled Children and Adults; the Birmingham Housing Authority; the Alabama Association of Housing Authorities; and the President of the Alabama Motorists Association.
He has also served as Chairman of the Insurance Section of the American Bar Association; Chairman of the Legal Section of the American Life Convention; member of the Advisory Committee of Criminal Law School; member of the Alabama Medical Center Foundation Board; Director of Ellen Douglas Home; member of the Advisory Council of Southern Research Institute.
Perhaps one of the proudest chapters in the life of Frank Spain is his association with Rotary International. He became a member in 1937, and by 1942 had been elected President of the Birmingham Club. So marked was his leadership that the District soon elected him Governor. Following that, he held numerous national offices, until, in the early 1950s, he crowned his Rotary career by becoming President of Rotary International. He was also part of the committee which built the International Headquarters Building, and he spent many years traveling in both Europe and the Orient representing the organization.
Frank Spain has also been an active member of the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Birmingham. Inside that church is a chapel which he donated. Runic lettering carved over the door states that it is a children’s chapel. Each of the letters and some of the candlesticks within that chapel was fashioned by Mr. Spain with loving care.
Over the years in business, Spain was a wise investor, and he and Margaret Spain generously shared their good fortune with philanthropic causes. At first, it was done quietly, unheralded- until former University of Alabama President Frank Rose urged the Spains to make public their generosity to encourage others to make similar contributions. They had the satisfaction of seeing President Rose’s prediction come true.
Frank Spain has not been alone in his adventurous journey through life. He was first accompanied by a lovely and talented lady, his wife Margaret, who gave him two children, Peggy and Frances. During the latter part of his life, he has been accompanied by Nettie Edwards Spain, his second wife, who shares with him many interests, including photography.
Needless to say, a man of Frank Spain’s standing accumulates legions of honors and awards. To name a few-he is a member of ODK, Phi Beta Kappa; he holds honorary degrees from The University of Alabama and Birmingham Southern; he is a member of the Alabama Academy of Art; he holds the Gorgas Award; he is a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor, and he has had numerous buildings named for him.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, Frank Spain’s life … is gentle and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This is a man.”