Honoring a Couple Who 'Walked the Walk'

More than 500 people gathered at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church yesterday to pay tribute to Michael and Virginia Spevak, killed in their home.
More than 500 people gathered at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church yesterday to pay tribute to Michael and Virginia Spevak, killed in their home. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Michael and Virginia Spevak's grown children found the note tucked away in a small safe in the home where the couple was slain. Virginia Spevak typed and left it for them more than 15 years ago, as a final message of reflection:

"I've had a good life and as I write this, expect it to go on a lot longer. However, I see no real room for complaint if it doesn't. I'm just pleased that I had the gift to be able to see both of you grow up."

Eli Spevak read his mother's letter during his parents' memorial service yesterday, evoking tears from many in the standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church in Northwest.

The note ended by acknowledging that when Eli and his sister, Leah, found it, as they did in the aftermath of the killings, there would be grief. "But go on with your lives and live them joyfully," Virginia Spevak wrote, echoing a charge that friends and family members said the couple personified.

Michael and Virginia Spevak, whose bodies were found Nov. 22, had done extraordinary things. They raised Eli and Leah, as well as foster children, aided ex-convicts, and built an environmentally friendly home powered by solar panels before it became a popular thing to do. Police said they were slain Nov. 20 by a woman they had once taken in as a guest, who viewed their home on Belt Road NW as a target of opportunity for herself and two accomplices.

Yesterday, many in a crowd of friends, family members, foster parents, former colleagues, students, teachers and fellow churchgoers said it was the countless, sometimes tiny, expressions of generosity and love by the couple in their daily lives that touched so many across the Washington region.

As friend Andy Mott perhaps best summed up, the Spevaks lived lives of "humble, quiet passion."

Michael Spevak, 68, for example, didn't just keep in touch with his psychiatric patients, he drove to Ohio to meet with one who wrote to him from prison. Before her retirement, Virginia "Ginny" Spevak, 67, didn't just teach energetically about the environment and recycling; she singled out each of her fifth- and sixth-graders at Green Acres School in Rockville and encouraged them to work up to their potential.

The two were endearing, quirky and, at times, hard to miss, friends recalled affectionately.

Virginia drew stares while knitting at every church committee and jail-improvement task force meeting she attended. She used the hobby as an icebreaker, though, often getting others to join her sewing groups, which made shawls for expectant mothers and quilts for needy children.

Michael Spevak occasionally shocked colleagues and family members by showing up in public in a Smurf-blue spandex suit he wore biking. "He taught me not to be self conscious," Eli Spevak said, drawing chuckles.

The Rev. Steve Robertson said Michael Spevak, who was Jewish, and Virginia Spevak, who worshiped at Chevy Chase Presbyterian, found common ground and "walked the walk" together.

"In their unassuming way, they lived out in this community all that I could ever hope to preach and more," Robertson said. "They welcomed the stranger, they fed the hungry, they cared for the orphan, they healed the sick, they gave to the poor. They believed in the dignity of every human being and sought justice especially for the prisoner returning to the community.

"Quite frankly," he said, "their example challenges many of us to examine the way we live our lives."

Robertson said the community faces a challenge in how it responds to the slayings.

Police allege that Angela Hernandez, 20, who used to visit the Spevaks' foster daughter, Ana, and who once stayed at their home, led two fellow attackers to the house to rob it. She and Peiro Fuentes Hernandez, 21, have been charged with the killings, and police are searching for a third suspect.

"The real way we will honor Mike and Ginny Spevak's life is in how we approach their death," Robertson said. "If we turn away from helping those in need because we become afraid, if we live in fear of the ones that are different from us . . . then we're certainly not honoring the way that Mike and Ginny lived out their faith."

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