Charlotte Cornish Collier died on February 6. We were out of town and I only recently found out about her passing. I hadn’t had the pleasure of Charlotte’s company since August and we were due to share another lunch at her favorite restaurant, Buzz, our habit every six months or so. She would be wearing a hat. Never left home without one. She looked good in hats.
Charlotte had recently given up holding her beloved Teas, a nod, given graciously, to age. Tea in Charlotte’s apartment was an occasion. Charlotte loved life and people and good conversation. She had a penchant for bringing friends of hers together, often meeting for the first time in her cozy living room. Guests would find a chair or share the sofa and Charlotte would lead us in talk. Topics ranged from world affairs to the local scene but literature and education were sure to come up every time.
Charlotte had a fascinating history but you had to work to get it out of her. She would invariably switch the subject back to her guests. You might start by asking her a question about her background and wind up talking (again) about yourself. She came to Springfield in the 90s after spending most of her life in Chicago. She lost her husband but soldiered on with her daughter Catia and son John. She spent most of her professional life in education, serving as a teacher and director of Early Childhood Programs and as a faculty member in the Human Services Institute of the City of Colleges of Chicago. She was coordinator of Head Start Supplementary Training Programs. The list goes on. When she retired, she volunteered as a docent at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The walls of her apartment gave testimony to her interests and good tastes.
After a suitable amount of spirited chatting in the living room, Charlotte would lead her four guests — always four — to the table laid with formal china and silver, beside each guest’s plate, a small gift. I still have a couple of Matchbox cars. On another occasion it was something chocolate as I remember.
Assisted by Catia, Charlotte would preside. The tea would be poured, milk and sugar passed, and guests would be served — bundt cake or other delicious delicacy, perhaps with ice cream — while Charlotte continued to gently apply those considerable skills at drawing people out.
I have maintained contact with people I first met at Charlotte’s. I’m certain that the same is true of others who had the good fortune to be guests around her table. She was a true blue friend to everyone she loved, and she loved many. Charlotte Collier was 91 when she died. Rest well, good friend.