Lora Hays Spindell, a film and video editor for 70 years, adjunct professor and mentor to countless filmmakers and a committed social activist, celebrated her 99th birthday in her home with 50 of her closest friends, family and colleagues just a few weeks before she died of natural causes on Nov. 28.
She was the eldest daughter of Arthur Garfield Hays, one of the founders and first counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Blanche Marks Hays Fagen, an amateur artist involved with the Provincetown Players, who counted among her friends and colleagues Eugene ONeill, Man Ray, Elsa Schiaparelli, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. A member of the first class of Walden School, Lora was throughout her life creative, innovative and pragmatic.
In her year at a Swiss boarding school, she developed a lifelong friendship with Kitty Carlisle Hart. She attended Carnegie Technical Institute (now Carnegie Mellon University) studying theater, and doing summer stock with Katharine Hepburn. As an actress in France, she starred in the Prévert brothers film LAffaire est dans le sac. Returning to the U.S. in the 1930s with then-husband Jean Lenauer, she became an assistant editor to Joris Ivens in 1938.
Thus began a long career, mostly as a freelance documentary editor. In 2002, she was honored for her extraordinary career and contributions to the film industry by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Using Lora Hays as her professional name, she worked for the Office of War Information during World War II and the United Nations after the war. Subsequently, she edited features, documentaries and TV dramas at Paramount, ABC, NBC, CBS and WNET-Channel 13. In the 1950s, she edited a number of episodes of You Are There (hosted by Walter Cronkite) and I Remember Mama. Other well-known TV films, bearing the distinctive Hays style and depth, and reflecting her passion for social activism, include The Berkeley Rebels, 16 in Webster Groves, From Montgomery to Memphis, Harlan County, USA (Academy Award for best documentary in 1976) and The Last to Know (premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1981).
Divorced from Lenauer, she met and married Lou Spindell, a physical-education teacher and member of the Original Celtics professional basketball team and librarian. In the 1980s, Lora began teaching a popular course on film editing at New York Universitys Tisch School of the Arts, directly influencing developing filmmakers over the next 20-plus years.
Well after her 85th birthday, Lora Hays produced as well as edited a number of other films containing socially relevant themes, such as Tell It Like It Is for the National Coalition Against Censorship, and Bread and Roses, with her N.Y.U. colleague, the documentarian (father of the American documentary) George Stoney.
Several of these latter projects, produced in association with other independent artists, aired nationally on PBS and HBO. She edited a number of shows for Engel Entertainment in the PBS series Going Places. One episode in this series actually featured Hays and Stoney as the travelers filmed while touring Ireland on bicycles! She was not asked to edit that one. Often modest and unassuming, she might well have edited herself out of it altogether.
Hays continued as a film editor and a film-editing professor until May 2007 when she suffered a stroke. Even in her two remaining years, she critically reviewed and continued to offer advice on independent films by her colleagues and former students, most recently, Whats Organic About Organic? by Shelley Rogers.
As a lifelong resident of Greenwich Village, Lora loved the ways one could appreciate country life within the city. She was passionate about Greenmarket, and well into her 90s, regularly walked up to Union Square for fresh produce, and rode her bicycle down the Hudson River bike path to Battery Park.
A networker extraordinaire, she put artistry into her selection of guests at many informal dinner parties. She loved being a mentor, and inventively connected people with each other.
Lora Hays is survived by her half-sister, Jane Hays Butler; her daughter, Dr. Kate Hays, a psychologist in Toronto; her grandson, Eliot Lothrop, a historic preservationist in Vermont; and two great-grandchildren, Mason Wallace Lothrop and Isabella Hays Lothrop.
A memorial service will be held at Greenberg Lounge, Vanderbilt Hall, at New York University, Sat., Dec. 19, at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent in memory of Lora Hays to: N.Y.U. Tisch School of the Arts, Attn. Fred Bush, 721 Broadway, 12th floor, New York, NY 10003; to the Friends of the High Line (www.thehighline.org) or to the National Coalition Against Censorship (www.ncac.org).