Letters and lessons from Charlie Bassett
Last fall I was lucky enough to be seated next to Charlie Bassett at the Lovejoy Award dinner for Paul Salopek. I immediately recognized his name from the “I’m never going to retire” columns he wrote for the Echo. I am part of a Colby generation so young, however, that at the time I did not know him for anything else—not the awards he won or the award named after him; not even his Halloween ghost-story readings in the chapel. I knew almost nothing of the legend of Charlie Bassett.
Our conversation started off casually, but he really took an interest in me when he found out that I was an English major and worked for the Echo. I really took an interest in him when he asked me which classes I was taking. I told him I was in Critical Theory with his former colleague from the English department Laurie Osborne, and he firmly clasped my shoulder, looked at me with a genuinely concerned face and said, “I’m sorry.”
Bassett and I traded letters for the rest of the year, and occasionally I saw him around campus. It wasn’t until I did some independent research that I learned the greatness of Bassett’s legacy. He just never mentioned any of it; whenever we spoke he only wanted to hear about how I was doing and what I was up to.
The last time I saw him was in May when I bumped into him on campus. He asked me how the Echo was going and I told him I was going to be editor-in-chief the next year. He smiled at me and said, “You know, I’m not surprised. I figured they were going to have to do that eventually.”
To know that somebody whom I had only met a handful of times was following my work so closely meant the world to me. As the letters from Bassett’s former students, colleagues and friends have poured in to the Echo for this memorial issue by the hundreds, I have quickly learned that I am by no means the only person whom he made feel that special. Bassett clearly had a tremendous gift to let other people know he sincerely cared about them.
Even though the current generation of students on the Hill may not have been lucky enough to know him personally, it is clear from the hundreds of letters we have received from alumni that he had a profound impact on so many people at the college and that they are taking the lessons he taught them into the world to positively affect the next generation.