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Manchester Town Clerk Linda Spence died unexpectedly, early Sunday morning. (Town of Manchester website)

MANCHESTER -- Linda L. Spence, Manchester's town clerk since Oct. 1, 1996, passed away during her sleep over the weekend. She was 59 years old.

She had been attending the Manchester Car Show Saturday and had enjoyed the day there before returning home, several friends and colleagues said on Monday.

"Linda Spence tap-danced her way through heaven's gate early Sunday morning, after having a special car show weekend filled with her family, friends and truck club," according to a statement released Monday by her surviving family members. "Linda passed peacefully in her sleep," the statement continued.

Spence served as the assistant town clerk from August 1987, until her appointment in October 1996, as interim town clerk. She was subsequently elected to the post the following March, in 1997, and served without interruption since then.

She succeeded Barbara Cross, who had been the town clerk since 1979.

Spence received numerous honors and recognition for her work as a town clerk during her tenure. According to the town of Manchester's website, she was named Vermont's Town Clerk of the Year in 2003, and served as president of the Vermont Municipal Clerks' and Treasurers' Association from 2000-02. She remained actively involved in the state's clerks' and treasurers' association, as well as the New England Association of City and Town Clerks and the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. She lived in Manchester with her husband, Terrel. The couple had three children and four grandchildren. She was a graduate of Burr and Burton Seminary, as the school was then known, in 1973.

Spence was widely respected by colleagues and other town officials she worked with over the years.

"I think the town clerk profession has lost an amazing town clerk and mentor -- she was a very important and integral part of our organization on both the state and New England region (levels) as well as our international association," said Sandra Pinsonault, town clerk of Dorset. "She really fought for her beliefs in our profession and she certainly will be missed by all of us."

Anita Sheldon, Manchester's assistant town clerk, is assuming, under state law, the role of acting town clerk. She will be performing all the regular duties of the town clerk until a new town clerk is appointed by select board.

When a new town clerk is selected, that appointment will run until March 2015, when Spence's three-year term would have expired. The town clerk is an elected position.

The town's select board could also opt to hold a special election to fill the position under state law, said town manager John O'Keefe. A special meeting of the select board may be held early next week to decide on an appointment, which under state law, needs to be made "forthwith," he said.

"It's difficult -- we're all still mourning the loss of Linda, but state law requires us to do that," O'Keefe said. "All of us at Town Hall are still in a state of shock. It didn't hit home until we showed up for work today and she wasn't here."

Town officials considered closing the office for a couple of days but Anita Sheldon, Spence's assistant, didn't want to do that and thought it was important the office stay open, he said.

The town clerk's duties run across a wide range of municipal functions, from issuing dog licenses to overseeing election results.

The Select Board also released a statement on Monday, noting Spence's contributions to the town.

"The Selectboard and all of Town government is deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our Town Clerk Linda Spence," the statement read. "Her enthusiasm, dedication and passion for public service was unmatched. She will be forever remembered for her sense of humor, devotion to her family and pets and love of life."

Jeff Wilson was Manchester's town manager when Spence was hired as assistant town clerk, and recalled her devotion to her work.

"She took the job extraordinarily seriously and was very dedicated, not only to the folks in Manchester, but also participated in the state association and the international association of town clerks," he said. "She was devoted to the job and devoted to the taxpayers and voters of Manchester."

According to an obituary notice released Monday, no funeral service will be held, at Linda Spence's request. Visiting hours will be held Thursday, June 12, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Park House in the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Recreation Park.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts in Spence's memory may be made to the Manchester Firefighters Association, in care of Brewster and Shea Funeral Service.