The life work of a great international statesman ended Friday, August 3, 2012. Charles Harmon Weitz crossed over, but left the many of us whose lives he touched with his infectious passion not just for life, but also for the ideals and vision of the United Nations (UN), to which he devoted his life energies.
Charles was on born July 8, 1919 in Des Moines, Iowa to Carl Vote and Marjorie Harmon Weitz. Lore has it he grew to be a brash young man under the mentorship of his grandfather, Charles (Karl) Heinrich Weitz. Stories remain to this day of Charles’ prowess at Roosevelt High School, where he was as a great track star and relay-team swimmer.
The young man took a bold step for those days and went to college at Antioch (Ohio), where he met the incomparable and beautiful Gretchen Robertson, whom he married while still in college at the age of 21. Together, Charles and Gretchen forged a charmed life and an unbroken duo for 63 wonderful years --- Charles always the captain, Gretchen the steady navigator. Charles majored in political science, and went on to complete a Master’s in Public Administration at what is now the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Charles’ first job in 1943 took him to the US Bureau of the Budget in Washington, DC, followed by a short stint as field budget examiner in Denver. He left the US in 1947 for post-war Paris, France, where he began his career with the United Nations as the first director of budget for the newly created UNESCO (the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). His young family joined him in Paris: Peter (born in 1944), and Barbara (born in 1947).
Charles devoted his entire life to the UN and the spirit of international development. From Paris, he took a short term UN job in New York (1951-54), but soon went off to head the UN technical assistance groups in what were then developing countries: Ankara, Turkey (1954-59) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka - 1959-60). He was next offered a position to run the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) Freedom From Hunger Campaign in Rome, Italy. This program’s goal was to mobilize world governments to address the problems of hunger and to commit to helping solve this crisis. Charles always said this was his greatest role and achievement. Charles and Gretchen spent 11 years at FAO headquarters.
Charles’ last posting was as the representative of FAO to UN headquarters in New York City, 1971-1980. During this time, Charles and Gretchen purchased property on the island of Vinalhaven, off the coast of Maine, where they built a home and where they moved when Charles retired. Eventually, they decided to winter in Portland, Maine, but they continued to summer on Vinalhaven and entertain their many friends and growing family. In 2003, they moved to the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Throughout their lives together, Charles and Gretchen were magnets for friends and colleagues. Both were very gifted chefs; being invited to dinners or the famous Sunday luncheons in their home promised not just a fabulous meal, but also endless conversations about how to solve world problems!
Charles was always an internationalist; even in his retirement, he worked tirelessly on international issues. He helped develop model UNs for students through the southern Maine UNA-USA, was active in the Wisconsin UNA chapter, and lectured frequently on UN issues in Canada. He was a truly gifted orator, a storyteller, and a toaster of renown; and he was a prodigious reader. Charles was also quite the sailor; he spent many summers sailing with his family around the Mediterranean.
When Charles celebrated his 90th birthday in 2009, 45 friends and family came from all over the world to Madison for a two-day celebration of Charles and his life. Another 45 friends honored him at a gathering on Vinalhaven. How many of us are so lucky to be recognized and venerated in our lifetimes?
Charles and Gretchen’s son Peter died in 1999. Gretchen passed away shortly after they moved to Madison, in December 2003. Charles leaves behind his daughter Barbara; five grandchildren – Angela Dugas (married to Tony), Alexandra Nieman (married to Nathan), Timothy Greenman, Jessica Weitz (married to Forrest Holzapfel), and Thomas Weitz (engaged to Jennifer BeVard); three great-grandchildren—Leander and Althea (Jessica and Forrest), and Oliver (Angela and Tony); his daughter-in-law Judy Weitz; his sister Elizabeth Johnson; and a very wonderful extended Weitz family.