Funeral services for former Chattanoogan Judy Spiegel — one of nearly 100 confirmed victims in last month's Surfside, Florida, condo collapse — will be held Tuesday morning in Miami.
Spiegel's body was recovered from the rubble of the 12-story Champlain Towers South on Friday. Her family was told by authorities on Sunday. She was 65 years old and leaves behind her husband, former Erlanger Health System CEO Kevin Spiegel, along with three children and three grandchildren.
The funeral will take place Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at Mount Sinai Cemetery in Miami, and those who are unable to attend in person can do so virtually via Zoom.
Kevin Spiegel said his late wife was an "incredible" wife, mother, grandmother, friend, educator, philanthropist and woman of faith whose main focus outside of her loved ones was making the places where she lived better for all.
"She raised money and tried to change culture in such a gentle manner and made such positive impacts. She would always do things to help the community and never asked for anything for herself," he said.
However, Kevin Spiegel said, "The most important thing about her was her relationship with her grandchildren."
During the pandemic, Judy Spiegel spent much of her time helping her daughter, Rachel Spiegel — who works as a hospital administrator in Miami — care for her two young daughters.
"She was the one picking them up, doing sleepovers, taking them out for ice cream, which Judy had a huge passion for, and just taking care of these little girls," Kevin Spiegel said. "That's one of the hardest things that we're dealing with right now — how do you tell a child that she's gone?"
Kevin Spiegel was at the couple's sixth-floor residence at Champlain Towers just days before the collapse to celebrate Father's Day before leaving for a business trip in California. The evening before the collapse, he was at dinner and recalls telling his wife goodnight for the last time.
"When I kissed her goodnight on the phone that night, she was in her pajamas ready to go to bed. You would assume that you're safe and you're tucked in and everything is fine," he said. "We've been living this — being at ground zero, looking at the building, watching them take down the other side of the building and digging through the whole thing — but when we're alone with each other, all the kids, they're struggling with the reality. Because we still don't believe how this could happen."
Each day since June 24, the family would walk from the building site to the community center, pray and listen to the daily briefings. As time went on, the Spiegels began to wonder if there was a chance their beloved wife and mother wouldn't be found, he said.
Judy Spiegel virtual service
Time: 11:30 a.m., July 13
Join Zoom Meeting: bit.ly/JSservice
Meeting ID: 884 7856 8886
"The Miami and the Surfside Police Department [told us] in person with chaplains, and our family was all together," Kevin Spiegel said. "We made arrangements pretty quickly, but she was underneath the building for almost three weeks — it's a long time. So we're really tired."
Judy Spiegel grew up in South Bellmore, New York, and went to high school at Bellmore-Kennedy High School, graduating in 1974. At Adelphi University, she received degrees in elementary education and bilingual studies and was a fluent Spanish speaker, according to Kevin Spiegel.
Judy Spiegel's contributions to Chattanooga and Erlanger include helping to spearhead the Arts at Erlanger program and assisting with a fundraising effort unlike any in the public hospital's history, culminating in the construction of a new, $40 million children's outpatient center along East Third Street.
Her vision helped transform the "dreary" main hallway of the public hospital, which before was adorned with posters, to an art exhibit, Kevin Spiegel said.
"She then embraced all the employees and associates and had them show their artwork, and what really transformed is uniting the people from the community and the hospital together through art," he said, adding that his wife had a similar impact in Memphis, where they lived before coming to Chattanooga, and their former homes in New York and Ohio.
Judy Spiegel was an active member of the B'nai Zion and Chabad of Chattanooga communities. She was also dedicated to educating others about the Holocaust, including bringing her friend Eva Schloss — Anne Frank's stepsister and a Holocaust survivor — to speak to local students in Chattanooga.
Kevin Spiegel said his children are committed to carrying on their mother's passion for education and giving, starting a support fund in her honor. Aside from helping the family recover from the loss, the fund will go toward supporting two organizations that Judy cared deeply about: the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and Schloss's Holocaust awareness efforts.
Contact Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.