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In Memoriam: Carol Knauss

May 30, 2018

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - Former longtime Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference (BLWC) coordinator Carol Knauss died on May 18, 2018. Carol was hired by the College in 1975 as a secretary for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She became a coordinator for the conference and served in that role for the remainder of her career at Middlebury until she retired from the College in 2001.

Carol was born December 16, 1937, in Manhattan, N.Y., the daughter of Albert E. and Martha Eldora (George) Clark. 

“Carol was a steady and unflappable presence during the many years she worked at the Conference,” said Michael Collier, past director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. “I will always be grateful to her for the generous way she welcomed me to the College and Bread Loaf when I was hired as director in 1994. She possessed a daunting and encyclopedic memory for the names, faces, and details of Bread Loaf participants. Many past participants will remember the way she accented her attire at Bread Loaf lawn parties with a purse shaped like a loaf of bread. In the years following her retirement she would occasionally return to those parties, arm in purse, with pleasure.”

David Bain, senior lecturer in English and American literatures, said, “Carol was a formidable and defining year-round presence at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for more than 25 years, always the first to officially greet by letter members of any session’s large Bread Loaf community, whether faculty, lecturers, guests, fellowship and scholarship holders, or contributors (as our adult students are called). Her correspondence duties would have crushed a lesser soul, especially back in the old typewriter days, but she was always warm and welcoming—as opposed to her stern, photocopied edicts about bringing hair dryers that might blow up the campus’s then-antiquated electrical system, or toting in typewriters that might keep neighbors awake in the night. She nurtured many friendships and sensitively smoothed any of the rough spots that inevitably would appear in any mingling of 250 creative souls.”

David added that Carol “was a good friend to me and to my wife Mary Duffy. I think I must have won her friendship with what she called ‘a heroic act’ in my first session at Bread Loaf, August 1980, when I held a fellowship for my first book. Carol somehow locked her keys in her office next to the Blue Parlor in the Inn, there were no extras hanging on the wall behind the front desk, and a cloud of urgency rose around her. I saw possibilities in the transom window above her door, mounted a chair, somehow removed the window, and wormed my way through the opening and fortunately got myself turned around by the time my feet hit the floor. ‘My hero,’ she said, as I triumphantly opened the door.”

Several other Bread Loaf contributors also shared their memories of Carol below.

Norton Girault: “For many of the 46 years I attended the BLWC, Carol was in charge of a major part of the proceedings. She ran things with love and efficiency. Three images of those years stand out in my memory: the welcoming breakfast I was invited to, during which I and a lucky group sat at Carol’s table; Carol singing with the madrigal group she loved and supported; and Carol on the Inn porch with a tear in her eye waving goodbye to conference participants departing for home by bus and car. I can’t begin to say how much her presence on the mountain meant to me. I will always remember her with love and reverence.” 

Jennifer Calder: “For 25 years as Bread Loaf’s administrator, Carol Knauss made it her mission to create a warm, inclusive community that continues to characterize and distinguish Bread Loaf. Every year, she told me, the curtain comes up on Brigadoon, and for the duration of the conference she maneuvered the ropes and pulleys of micro-level operations and people dynamics to project its seamless performance. 

“Carol’s sincere need to console and commiserate always threatened to betray her assumed mantle of New England propriety. One evening I walked onto the Inn porch after dinner to find her embracing a young woman who had just gotten a breakup letter from her fiancé. Carol, in a cappella soprano, was singing ‘Never have I wandered through the rye, wondering where has some guy gone. . . .’ She enlisted the choral support of the gathering retinue, and by the time the improvised troupe, in raucous solidarity, bellowed, ‘Many a new day will dawn before I do,’ the young woman was smiling through her tears. 

“She ritually rose at 4 a.m. on departure day to see off the first shuttle to Burlington. She said she did it to give them closure to the catharsis of the conference but it was really to bid them safe journey back to their worlds, maybe to breach that fourth wall for a hug—because she would miss them. She knew their names even years later, all of them.

“Carol loved shrimp and double-chocolate desserts. She loved the sparkle of cut glass and the tradition of Christmas. She loved the madrigals and Handel’s Messiah and old Hollywood musicals. She loved people and she loved life. . . . She loved Bread Loaf.”
Kathleen Devereaux, BLWC: “I remember Carol as a mainstay of the Bread Loaf Singers, which I believe she founded. In approximately 1991 she drafted Al Hudgins to direct the ensemble, which sang madrigals and modern pieces in four-part harmony. Carol sang alto and her strong voice carried that section.  

“Carol’s wry and mordant wit, contained in her ‘travel tips’ sent to registrants before arriving, conveyed the flavor of the Conference to newcomers. E.g., ‘Vermont is not really at the end of the world. It just seems that way if you are trying to get here.’ And, ‘Coming by train is somewhat complicated and costly. I would recommend that if you have been thinking about it, you stop thinking about it right now and find alternate transportation.’

“Carol was always ready to calm the jitters of conference attendees, whether first timers or veterans. When I wrote her and told her that I had always wanted to attend Bread Loaf, especially since a college mentor, a BVM sister, had encouraged me to apply. I didn’t then, and was unsure about applying in middle age. Had it not been for Carol’s reassurances, I doubt that I would have found the courage to attend in 1996, my first year as a ‘Loafer.’

“An image of Carol remains in my mind from ’96 and ’97, the only years I attended during her tenure. On the last Sunday of the conference, the temperature reminded us, as Carol so often did, that autumn comes early to Vermont. From the earliest departure on, Carol stood in front of the Inn on those frosty mornings, waving goodbye as each van, packed with weary, prematurely nostalgic but newly inspired Bread Loafers, pulled away from the curb.”

Carol was also known for her love of classical music, good Scotch, her dog Hollie, good literature, and traveling to England. Christmas was her favorite time of year.

She is survived by her two children, David Knauss of Bridport and Martha Orvis and her husband Randy of Shoreham; and her two grandchildren, Patrick John Knauss of Morrisville, Vt., and William Christopher Mitchell-Knauss of Rutland. She was predeceased by her parents.

The family would like to thank the staff at Addison County Home Health & Hospice for the great care they provided to Carol. A celebration of Carol’s life will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Vergennes on Friday, June 15, at 11 a.m. Following the burial at the Bridport Cemetery, Carol’s family invites friends and colleagues to join them at the Bridport Masonic Hall nearby. 

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church or to Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society, at 236 Boardman Street, Middlebury, VT 05753. Online condolences are accepted at