Professor Charlie Bassett Remembered

 

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Professor Bassett's tradition of reading aloud Halloween stories not only in Lorimer Chapel but also in residence hall lounges represents what a Colby education is all about. It's about how students and professors from various cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles become one big, sometimes dysfunctional, always inquiring and supportive, happy family. As the family's patriarch, Charlie will be sadly missed and remembered fondly.

Andrea Stairs ’94

 

Professor Bassett engaged us with his stories and inspired us with his teachings.  He personified the wonderful and uniquely distinctive spirit of Colby and will live on in our hearts and memories forever.

Amy Vreeland Dow ’92

 

Charlie Bassett was the most supportive of colleagues. Several years ago when I was teaching my course on Crossdressing in Literature and Film, I was lamenting to Bassett about the debate I had scheduled with the class -- I was planning to crossdress myself in order to run the debate between the student-critics and really wanted a male counterpart to join. Of course, Charlie volunteered; then our only problem was that I had to buy the largest, most shapeless of dresses for him. He donned it over his usual garb and held forth with aplomb.

Laurie Osborne, Professor of English

 

Twenty-five years later, I recall his Hemingway lectures most vividly. Charlie, like Hemingway,  had a way of bringing out the romantic, rugged individualist in all of us, to make us yearn for simpler times and unbroken tracts of wilderness.  After one Nick Adams lecture I found myself wanting to put cans of baked beans and spaghetti in a rucksack and hike for miles along a river.  That's what he did to you -- once he introduced his favorite literary characters, they became part of you for life.  Charlie Bassett, with his big heart and lofty ideals and expectations, will always be with me.

Joyce Seymour Rains ’86

 

Charlie's classes were a privilege, not merely instruction. He made me learn and laugh, often simultaneously. He was a conglomerate of every magnificent characteristic we envision in the consummate professor. My greatest regret was not taking every class he taught. 

Ironically, it is now impossible to find the right words to describe this man who devoted his life to human expression. Perhaps that is fitting. He didn't fit into any mold. He just molded the rest of us into active, compassionate thinkers.

Though we spoke on the phone a few times, I haven't seen him in years. Yet that is no easing of the loss. Charlie stays with you. Just another of his many gifts.

Scott Lainer '87

 

I graduated too long ago ('57) to have had Dr. Bassett as one of my professors, but I knew and appreciated him later in two ways.  Some years ago, now, he led a summer course in American lit. at an Alumni Summer College.  I loved it and can well understand why he was so popular.  Also, for many years he co-wrote the annual appeal letter from Colby's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa with Prof. David Mills, a classmate and old friend of mine.  I have saved these letters because they were so much fun to read--yes, fun!  I hope you will include these two little details in your coverage.

Leslie W. Randolph-Brancart '57

 

It was known to some Colby students of my time, and perhaps others, too, that Charlie Bassett rode a moped. In 1990 or 1991, he suffered an accident on the moped that left him with a limp. One afternoon, struggling to carry his load of books up to Miller Library and to his office, he called out to me across the way, “Donnelly, be my dromedary!” It was one of the stories, for some reason (probably because Bassett was larger than life), I shared with my wife early in our relationship. Bassett’s ghost comes alive in our home every time she needs a hand carrying something and relies on the same words to get me to jump to action, as if I’m 21 again.

He had a way of making stuff stick with you. That’s as good of a mark of a great teacher as anything else.

David Donnelly ‘91

 

Charlie had the biggest smile, the biggest laugh, and the biggest heart of anyone I've known at Colby.  From the first time I met him, he treated me as an equal, and his enthusiasm was infectious.  His ability to redirect a fractious faculty meeting with a quintessential Bassett quip was a gift.  And I hope that someone, somewhere, has a photo of him reading ghost stories in the chapel on Halloween that they'd be willing to share with the Special Collections file!

Marilyn R. Pukkila | Head of Instructional Service 

I was a student when Charlie Bassett came to Colby in the late sixties. He was the professor who made me love the American novel. I never see a Red Sox game without thinking of him strutting the stage talking about The Natural and how the ritual of baseball mirrors the game of life. What a gift he gave us.

Sue Spiess ’71

 

As a math major, I had the honor of knowing Charlie Bassett through his wife, who was on the faculty of the Math Department.   The memory of Charlie that still makes me smile is his campaign in the late 1970's to get the math professors to ask essay questions on their exams - to foster our writing and communication skills.  Charlie's glee and delight in pushing people out of their comfort zone stays with me to this day.

Sue McLeod ’80

 

I just found a letter in my desk this week from Professors Mills and Bassett.  The postmark is from July 1999, and the letter is a typewritten update and fundraising appeal for Phi Beta Kappa.  At the bottom of the letter, written in ink, is a note from Professor Mills that says, "Jane, you sweetheart--How's life turning out?  You deserve its best."  Scrawled underneath that is a note from Professor Bassett:  "Well, almost the best.  Write, you toad."

I am telling you this for two reasons.  First, I always looked upon Professor Bassett as a role model in terms of arranging a desk and an office.  Surely, that letter would have been consigned to a trash bin long ago were it not for my messy mentor illustrating that piles are the only way to organize books and papers, anything important (or funny or from South Dakota) should be taped to your door, and clutter is king.  Second, he was the only person who could call me a toad and make me feel happy about it.  He was a marvelous teacher, but more importantly, he was adept at making you believe you were worth knowing.  "DeStefano," he would yell, "why the hell are you taking this class?"  And I would know that was his way of saying, "It's nice to see you.  Welcome."

  Jane DeStefano Becker ’92

 

My name is Mark Boles ’92 and Charlie Bassett was my advisor while I was at Colby.

To say he was special to me would be an understatement but perhaps the two most memorable moments were the following.

I had made it to senior year without actually having had a class with Professor Bassett.  It was second semester senior year and his infamous class conflicted with President Cotter’s class “Law & Society”. I opted to take President Cotter’s class and take another class with Professor Bassett. Which also happened to meet at 8:30 the morning after “Beat the Clock” nights at Champions. When Charlie saw that I was registered for this class and knowing me all too well he summarily called me into his office. And with his scrunched face he looked at me and simply said in his candid voice… “Boles, you’ll never make it.” I did. For Charlie, how could you not. The horrible irony of course was that he missed more classes that semester than I did as it was the beginning of his wife’s illness.

The other special thing about Charlie was that my mother was a PhD in American studies. While she was getting her PhD, her professor, Paul Baker won an award for Best Graduate Professor of American Studies and Charlie Bassett won for best undergraduate professor.

Anyway… the man is a legend in my mind. 

Mark Boles ’92

 

 
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