Longtime Northwest suburban basketball referee Bill Spicer, who battled a rare form of leukemia for nearly a year, succumbed to the disease Sunday. He was 59.
Spicer suffered from a form of leukemia known as myelodysplasia syndromes, or MDS (previously called preleukemia), which affected his blood components. He underwent rounds of blood transfusions and chemotherapy before having a successful stem cell transplant from his brother, Steve Spicer of St. Charles.
He had been suffering from post-transplant complications known as Graft-versus-host disease since Thanksgiving.
"It was a struggle in that he was a people person and he pretty much had to be isolated for the last year, away from anyone other than immediate family, so that was extremely hard on him," said Spicer's wife, Kathleen. "He constantly talked about getting back to his reffing."
Kathleen Spicer said her husband missed interacting with friends and family outings.
"He lived life to the fullest prior to this diagnosis," she said. "We went to music concerts all the time as a family."
Though the cancer cells had not returned since the bone marrow transplant, the acute variety of Graft-versus-host disease Spicer suffered from took a toll on his body. Toward the end, Spicer was severely malnourished as the steroids used to fight the disease affected his immune system to the point where he became infected with two different forms of pneumonia bacteria.
"He kept fighting," Kathleen Spicer said. "He never complained once about anything. That was the hardest thing for me to really deal with. He just wanted to keep going for as long as he could for all of us."
Spicer was involved with youth athletics for more than 20 years in the Northwest suburbs. He was active with the Arlington Heights Youth Athletic Association, serving as its president since 1989, and helped form the Prospect Performing Arts Endowment after his three children graduated from Prospect High School.
"The community and the world has lost a very good person," said longtime friend Mike Lauria of Arlington Heights. "He helped everybody."
Lauria, 58, and Spicer, officiated games for the Arlington Heights Youth Athletic Association.
"The kids who are now adults, Bill impacted their lives in such a good way that they will never forget him," Lauria said. "He had such great character of being a strong but also a kind individual. He's going to leave a lot of holes in people's lives."
Lauria said Spicer was a family-oriented guy who had "hundreds of kids."
"I told the family that they are the most unselfish people I have ever met because they had to share their husband and father with so many people," he said. "He was not a good guy. He was a great guy. He never thought of himself first. I'm just lucky to be one of his friends."
Students who Spicer officiated and his youth sports peers organized a Jan. 15 fundraiser at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights to help pay for his mounting medical bills. The event, backed by Christian Liberty Academy and its affiliate Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin, as well as the Arlington Heights Youth Athletic Association, raised more than $60,000.
"He is going to be sorely missed by so many people ... not just the schools that he assigned basketball/volleyball games for," said Steve Rowland, CLA athletic director. "He was just a man of great character and great integrity. He loved being around the kids. He just really enjoyed watching the kids grow up. He coached them when they were fifth-graders; he was coaching them when they were seniors."
Rowland said he would approach the private school's administrators after they return from spring break about how to memorialize Spicer for his contributions to the school.
Spicer also is survived by his two sons, Bill and Brian, daughter, Kelly, and brothers, Steve and Andy Spicer, both of St. Charles, Tom Spicer of Barrington, and Rob Spicer of Omaha, Neb.
Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, March 29, at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 916 E. Central Road, Arlington Heights. Memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at the church. Memorial contributions may be sent to the Wounded Warrior Project and Southminster Church.