Recent Obituaries
In Memoriam Archive

Lee Q. Charette ’39

January 31, 2020, in San Francisco, California, at the age of 102.

Lee was born in Portland in 1917, four months after the U.S. entered WWI and shortly before the flu pandemic of 1918–19. He attended public school in Portland and entered Reed in the midst of the Great Depression. Reed sharpened his alert and flexible intellect and provided him with the foundation for a lifelong love of literature, the arts, and playing bridge. He wrote this thesis, “Poetry of Gloom: The Novels of William Faulkner,” advised by Prof. Victor L. O. Chittick [literature 1921–48].

After graduating from Reed, he pursued his study of literature at the University of the Pacific (at the time called College of the Pacific) in Stockton, California, where he earned a master’s degree. In Stockton. Lee met and formed a lifelong friendship with my parents. In a conversation we had in 2016, he remembered pacing the hospital lobby with my father, and listening to my mother’s birthing cries, the night I was delivered. When we moved to different parts of California in the early 1940s, visits between Lee and our family continued. He was one of those adults who seemed interested in what kids thought and even laughed at our jokes. My brother, Dal, called him “Buzzer,” referring to a risqué joke we shared and thought was hilarious. Lee humored us without condescending. Sixty years later, when I mentioned the old joke to Lee, he still remembered it.

When I was trying to decide where to apply to college Lee suggested Reed. I had been pretty unhappy in high school, believed I had not gotten a very good education in Fresno, and felt a social misfit. He convinced me the intellectual rigor and unconventional social atmosphere at his alma mater might suit me. I don’t think I would have been accepted without his glowing letter of recommendation, as, although my high school grades were good, my SAT scores were not the highest. I entered Reed 20 years after Lee graduated, grateful for his support.

After completing his MA, Lee worked briefly for the federal government, then enlisted in the Army Air Corps for service during World War II. He served on Oahu but did not see combat. After the war, his degrees and administrative experience landed him a position with the State of California, where he rose to become the manager of the San Rafael employment office.

Subsequently he joined the University of California, where he became the head of human resources at UCSF. He married late. As a teenager, I remember attending his wedding to Bonnie Boyd. Together they raised their family in Mill Valley in a hillside home filled with books and their friends’ art. They loved bridge games, hosted lively, convivial cocktail parties, and engaged in witty, wide-ranging conversation with a diverse group of friends.

  Lee retired in 1979 at the age of 62. During his 40 years of retirement, he enjoyed traveling in the U.S. and Europe and did volunteer work at the Mill Valley Library and for other organizations. He took pleasure in playing the piano, playing bridge, and reading. On our last visit, he said he had been rereading À la recherche du temps perdu (I found Proust challenging even in translation). We both recalled his Reed French professor, Cecilia Tenney [French & music 1921–53], who was still on the faculty at the time I studied French there.

His family organized a gala celebration for Lee’s 100th birthday in 2017. It was delightful to watch him wheel from table to table greeting every guest, warmly engaging each of us, obviously happy to see so many friends and family.

He leaves two children, Boyd and Mimi, a grandson, Kevin, and many friends who loved his company and admired his honesty, his quiet, wry, intellectual capacity—his wit and his kindness. Although we were not connected through DNA, he was as close as an uncle would have been, and I felt a special connection to him, through our shared status as Reed alumni. Contributed by Robbin Légère Henderson ’63

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2020

comments powered by Disqus