Charles M. Willett was educated at boarding schools and Harvard College with time out to enlist in the army and volunteer for combat 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 formed his world view. He became an ardent pacifist, advocate for human rights, and would later champion the alternative press. He earned an MS degree in Library Science at 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, Willett organized Crises Press to promote alternative books and magazines. He co-founded the Civic Media Center in 1993, an alternative library reading room, and infoshop. The CMC’s mission is to provide community access to information and points of view not carried or incompletely covered in for profit and corporate media.” He served on the board through 2011.
From 1997-2010, he served as founding editor and publisher of Counterpoise: For Social Responsibility, Liberty and Dissent—a quarterly journal. Its main purpose was to serve as a counterweight to mainstream journals and points of view. Charles turned his home into an office populated daily by enthusiastic interns from the University of Florida who gained invaluable experience in journal publication.
Willett was active in many organizations promoting human rights. In 1987, he became a charter member of the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace. He served on the ACLU Florida Board of Directors as a member (president 1988-1990) and as a Gainesville area member and chair (1986-90, 2000-2003). For years, he was active in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Charles was a person of great intellect, wit, energy and charm, with a finely honed sense of humor. He loved to sing, had a trained voice, and sang during his college and army years. He performed in ten concerts with the Harvard Glee Club at Symphony Hall in Boston. He loved music, dance, history, and literature.
His overriding passion was the pursuit of a better informed and just world. 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, including the staff of Z.
Charles M. Willett was an early subscriber to Z Magazine when it was founded in 1988. Subsequently, he volunteered to take Z (along with other alternative media) to the American Library Association’s national and regional conferences where he actively encouraged librarians to subscribe to alternative media. We are very proud to have known him and appreciate his long-term support for alternative media/publishing efforts. On his own initiative, he would call the Z office once a year to alert us to his various trips to library events and to request copies of the magazine for display. We miss those calls.