JACK SPIEGEL (1931-2004)
For over 43 years I knew Jack Speigel as a fellow chess-player, organiser, and arbiter – but especially as the best friend anyone could ever hope to have. We met at Bognor Regis just after Easter 1961 and became good friends at the Eastbourne Chess Festival later that year.
His chess career was quite remarkable. A few years ago when a match between Essex Past and Essex Present was arranged, Jack received a mention as a player who represented Essex in 1948 and who was still playing for the County. He once told me he was the youngest-ever secretary of the Essex Chess League.
Jack will be best remembered for the Southend-on-Sea Annual Easter Congress. Although organised by Southend Chess Club – with a committee overseeing the event – Jack was involved from day one. He told me how it all began. Apparently Southend Club wanted to find a way of celebrating a special anniversary
( I never did find out which ) and a one-day tournament was suggested. Jack proposed that it could be a weekend event, and by the time he had finished it had become the 4-day Easter Congress. He found a venue and had even involved Southend Borough Council, which they still are to this day. For 25 years Jack acted as Congress Secretary and Chief Arbiter. He then passed on the Secretary’s post to the late George Smith while continuing as Chief Arbiter for another 20+ years.Jack’s interests were not confined to chess. He introduced me the the Player’s Theatre in London and their Victorian Music Hall – so enthusiastic was he that he’d signed me up as a new member by the end of the first performance that he took me to. He enjoyed Classical Music, Opera, and Jazz, especially when live. Hardly a week went by without Jack visiting the National Film Theatre. Some years ago he even found a London Cinema showing silent films – accompanied by a live pianist. For some years he’d been a regular at the Edinburgh Festival – particularly the ‘Fringe’. He had been to every theatre in London. I once accused him of having seen every show currently running in London. Jack corrected me. “I’ve seen every show that I want to see.” was his reply ... that meant all but two of those currently on !
His career up to the age of about 30 saw him employed in the ‘Rag Trade’ as a buyer. He suddenly decided one day that he no longer enjoyed his job and wanted to find something more satisfying. He was on good terms with his employers who gave him leave of absence while he decided what to do. His new career saw him qualify as a Probation Officer and move rapidly up the ranks. He moved on to take charge of a home for disturbed boys and then to Stamford House Remand Centre in London’s Goldhawk Road where he became second-in-command. There were many problem boys who were helped and guided into a sensible way of life by Jack. They probably owe him more than they will ever realise.He maintained his flat in Southend, which had originally been his late parents’ home. That became his ‘Country Residence’ while his staff flat at Stamford House was his ‘London Place’ for many years. After taking early retirement Jack was a familiar face at weekend congresses throughout the UK. He was normally armed with his CAMRA Good Beer Guide but also had a copy of the Good Pub Guide. He reasoned that if a pub was in both it was probably worth visiting ! Jack took part in the Paignton and Hastings Congresses for more years than I care to remember.
For decades he played for Essex, Southend, and West Ham ( which then became Newham and finally Cavendish ). His nephew Clifford Stanford ( founder of the Demon Internet Company ) offered to finance a number of REDBUS top-class knock-out tournaments to run alongside the traditional Southend Open Congress. Jack organised and controlled these successful events. He trained a number of arbiters who went on to gain the FIDE International Arbiter title ( including David Eustace, Mary McDermott, and myself ) without ever receiving the title himself. “Why would I need it ? I’ve controlled international tournaments for years !” was his response when I once asked how he felt about that title. He was a Life Member of the BCF and a BCF Arbiter. He held the earlier title of ‘BCF Judge’ and was amused after one Southend Congress to see that the local paper had reported, “The event was controlled by Mr. J. A. Speigel and B.C.F. Judge”. Jack remarked that he hoped Mr. Judge would help again the following year !
In the 1960’s Jack was expected to marry his regular girlfriend, but she gave him up for someone else. In the many years I’d known him he’d never mentioned her until we had a meal together last autumn. He told me that there had never been anyone serious for him after that, as he hadn’t wanted to get into the situation where anyone could ever hurt him that much again. How sad that he had carried such emotional pain for so many years.
Jack was active in everything he enjoyed doing until a few weeks before the short illness which claimed his life. Cliff told me Jack had said he’d enjoyed every bit ofhis life except for the last two weeks. If we can all look back on our lives in that way we won’t have done badly. Comments I have received include “I feel as if I had known him all my life”; “ You felt he respected you even when you didn’t agree” and “ Everyone knew Jack – he played chess absolutely everywhere.”
We have lost a great chess enthusiast and friend to many of us. I know that players, organisers, and arbiters everywhere will join me in expressing our sincere condolences to Jack’s family – in particular his nephew Cliff and his niece Ros.