Friends remembered: James E. Spruill

James E. Spruill
James E. Spruill

James E. Spruill, 86, of Williamston, North Carolina, died Sunday, July, 11, 2021, at his home.

In 1957, Spruill was named a Carnegie Hero for saving 40-year-old Josephine R. Cox, who would later become his mother-in-law, from drowning in Williamston, North Carolina, on July 24, 1956.

Cox was driving when she lost consciousness, and her vehicle plunged into the Roanoke River. The vehicle headed downstream in water 25-feet-deep.

Spruill, 21 at the time, ran to the bank and dived into the river. He swam quickly to the car and held to the door while he extended his head and shoulders through the open window.

He grasped Cox’s arm and had partially removed her from the vehicle when it suddenly began to sink. Water rushed in and forced Cox back into the vehicle. Spruill maintained his hold and was carried beneath the surface where he pulled her through the window.

Having been submerged for more than 30 seconds, Spruill was nearly exhausted. He surfaced with Cox and towed her 40 feet to Spruill’s father who met them in a rowboat. Cox, who was still unconscious, was hospitalized for 10 days. Spruill was tired. Both recovered.

Spruill was born June 17, 1935, to Carl Hugh Spruill and Willie Holland Speller of Martin County, North Carolina.

As a member of the U.S. Army, Spruill served two years in El Paso, Texas, and four years in the Reserves. He then worked as a typesetter and iron worker before a 32-year-long career at Weyerhaeuser, a timber, land, and forest company.

Spruill is survived by his daughters, Jennifer Spruill Leggett and Diane Spruill Singletary; two grandchildren; and his brother William Spruill.

He was preceded in death by his wife Mary Lou Cox Spruill and two siblings.

Spruill enjoyed reading, hunting, fishing, and spending time with his grandchildren.