Profile: Sally Spencer-Thomas ’89 (Bowdoin Magazine)

Sally Spencer-Thomas '89.

Sally Spencer-Thomas ’89.
Illustration by Chelée Ross ’12.

This profile originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Bowdoin magazine.

Bowdoin Major: Psychology

Hometown: Conifer, Colorado

Title: CEO and Founder, Carson J. Spencer Foundation; Survivor Division Chair, American Association for Suicidology

Website: carsonjspencer.org

Inspiration behind the work: I like to believe that my brother Carson ’92 walks with me through this journey, that he is cheering me on from the sidelines and opening doors for me. I imagine his entrepreneurial spirit and caring soul working through me as I try to create something in his name of which he would be proud. I am also inspired by other survivors of suicide loss that have paved the way before me and have turned their grief into energy to make a difference. I am profoundly excited about the social entrepreneurs of the world who are using “business skills to solve social ills.”

On new ways to think about suicide: Rather than counseling services or crisis hotlines, our approach is “upstream” and we are working to create a tipping point of change. We are looking at innovative, gap-filling ways to reach people before crisis emerges and change culture around this very complicated issue.

Most rewarding moment: Seeing recognition in a person’s eyes—they have been understood and empowered, their voice and experience matters. It’s a profound shift from being ashamed and marginalized to being a bold leader.

Best recent book: Since I live in a house of all males, I have a guilty pleasure in the Twilight series. Team Jacob anyone?

Bowdoin magazine, SummerFavorite Bowdoin memory: During our pre-orientation trip when a small group of us split off from the others and threw rocks in the ocean for hours, making up games, and laughing until we cried. Another is of painting on these huge canvasses in the basement of [Adams Hall], where the medical students decades before used to cut up cadavers. I would be down there in the middle of the night inspired by the creepiness of it all. Some of my best work came from that “studio.”

Favorite way to relax: Our family just bought a vacation mountain lake cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado, that is unplugged from the grid. I look forward to peaceful and joyous family gatherings there for years to come.

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