Yesterday I received news that Dr. Charles F. Angell, a colleague, friend, and fellow fan of medieval literature, passed away in his home at the age of 70.
When I arrived at Bridgewater State for my job interview six years ago, Charlie met me at 8AM and took me out for breakfast with another member of the search committee. His conversation was in equal parts energetic, informed, and unexpected—in the five minutes it took to get to breakfast, Charlie covered Bridgewater’s history as a shoe-manufacturing town, my dissertation topic, and his ongoing greenhouse repairs before turning to the value of different translations of Beowulf (I would eventually learn that this was fairly typical with Charlie—he believed in a tossing-the-medicine-ball type of information exchange, and expected others to keep up). He asked me which translation I favored, and I told him that I was torn between R. M. Liuzza’s version (for readability), Michael Alexander’s (for its attempted fidelity to the original), and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s (for its cadences and what I may have pretentiously referred to as its ‘sense of the Germanic epic’). Charlie had reviewed Seamus Heaney’s version several years before, liked it a great deal, and proceeded to tell me why (his review is here, incidentally: http://www.bridgew.edu/review/archives/2000/june/bonehouse.htm). His points, it must be said, were rather more well-thought-out than my own, but he didn’t seem to mind, and even noted several points in favor of my wishy-washy answer.
We then moved into a debate of the best translation of the famously untranslatable hwæt, a word Charlie refers to in his review as “what sounds like a throat clearing or an after dinner belch.” As we sifted through Heaney’s diffident “So,” Alexander’s strident “Attend!,” Crossley-Holland’s aural “Listen!,” Charles Kennedy’s “Lo!” and others, it occurred to me that I was in the rare presence of someone who wasn’t interested in “winning” an argument or overmastering a young would-be colleague. He was just enjoying the conversation. This struck me, and still does, as a generous position to take with one in a stream of candidates for a position—all the more so as I’d been on the receiving end of more than one attempt by other search committees to kick the legs out from under me.
Five years’ residence in the office next to Charlie’s has only reinforced that first impression. And his generosity could be practical as well. When my wife and I bought our home in 2009, several people with good intentions but sadistic streaks came out of the woodwork to tell us horror stories about the costs of home ownership. “Get ready,” they’d say, with what I suspect they thought were looks of sympathy. “Houses are money pits. You’ll see.” One friend told me about a backyard deck rotted by termites; another spoke darkly of water damage. When Charlie heard that I was buying a house, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and offered only congratulations. The next day, I found a note and a gift card to a local hardware store. The note said, in essence, “Buy some tools. You’re going to need them.”
Charlie was a totally unpretentious person, equally eager to talk about Shakespeare, the Patriots, classical music, teaching, local events, or baking (and oh, how I’m going to miss the random Monday mornings when Charlie would arrive with loaves of bread or scones to be left in departmental mailboxes). His enthusiasms were infectious, and he loved to share.
I’ll miss his remarkable institutional memory—Charlie began teaching at Bridgewater in 1969, and in a career that spanned five decades he’d seen more than many of his colleagues put together. I’ll miss his early-morning conversations, which might be on any topic and reflect his prodigious reading and experience. I’ll miss his love for our students and for the job we were doing, even on days when his health or little frustrations made it more difficult.
I’ll miss him.
Thanks for everything, Charlie.