In Memory of Charles Willett, 1932-2012

BY JOE COURTER

Parts of the article below were borrowed from the obituary that ran in the Gainesville Sun.

Charles M. Willett of Gainesville passed away Feb. 5 at E. T. York Hospice Center in Gainesville, three weeks after celebrating his 80th birthday with a large and festive family reunion. Charles was born on January 12, 1932 in New York City to Francis W. and Katherine T. Willett. He was educated at boarding schools and Harvard College with time out to enlist in the Army and volunteer for combat as a rifleman in the Korean War. Following college, he pursued graduate work in Munich and was accepted into the Foreign Service where he studied German and Czech. He served seven years as a diplomat in Germany and Austria.

His experiences in Korea and Austria transformed his world view. Charles became an ardent pacifist, advocate for human rights, and would later become a champion of the alternative press. He earned an M.S. degree in Library Science from Simmons College and joined the American Library Association in 1974. He served as librarian of Acquisitions and Collection Management at Harvard College Library, SUNY/Buffalo Libraries and the University of Florida Libraries. At the University of Florida, he was active in the faculty union. Following his library career, he worked as European Sales Manager for Ambassador Book Service.

In 1991, he organized Crises Press to promote alternative books and magazines. Charles co-founded the Civic Media Center in 1993, an alternative library, reading room and activist space, now located at 433 S. Main St. The CMC’s stated mission is “to provide community access to information and points of view not carried, or incompletely covered, in the for-profit and corporate media.” Charles’ heart, mind and activities were intricately entwined with the life of the CMC. He served on the CMC board through 2011. Countless people have made the CMC what it is, but it was Charles Willett’s initiative, his vision, and his initial financial support that were the catalysts setting the foundation for what has become an amazing community resource.

It was meetings at his house of the “Gainesville Alternative Press,” which he convened to help go through the wealth of publications sent to him for review, that the idea for the CMC arose in 1993. He was the source of our basic library when the CMC started, and Charles helped shape its method of operating. He made sure the rent was paid for the first 15 months, and he was the treasurer and handled the paperwork for many years, as the organization grew.

During this same time, Charles also founded and edited Counterpoise, a quarterly journal “For Social Responsibility, Liberty and Dissent,” and oversaw many interns from the University of Florida¬† during its publication run of 1997 to 2010.

Charles was a man of great intellect, wit, energy and charm, with a finely honed sense of humor. He was also an accomplished singer and dancer. While his overriding passion was the pursuit of a better informed, just world, he loved socializing and cultural activities. In recent years, his interests broadened to include international folk dancing, Klezmer music and Zumba Gold fitness. He was a graceful, elegant and sometimes controversial individual. He will be greatly missed by many.

There will be two events marking his passing and celebrating his life in March.

On Sunday, March 11, there will be a memorial organized by his family but open to all at 2:30p.m. at the Willett house (1716 Williston Road). Finger food is welcome but not required.

Then on Saturday, March 24, the CMC will host a memorial/consciousness-raising, where all who come can share in answering the question, “What did I learn from Charles Willett?” If you knew him, or ever met him, he made an impact on you. The CMC invites you to share your thoughts (in person or in writing) so all of us can learn more about the impact of this unforgettable man.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Civic Media Center, 433 S. Main St., Gainesville, FL  32601.

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