The Rev. Charles P. Scott
The Reverend Charles Powell Scott, Chaplain Emeritus
September 12, 1920 – October 10, 2004
In 1986 Charles P. Scott retired from the chaplaincy at Middlebury College as the most senior college or university chaplain in the country. That year he wrote a brief letter that was published on the back page of the Middlebury Magazine. In part, he wrote: “Where else in our society do warm friendships between young and old have such a good chance to flower but at a place like Middlebury?” Pastor, mentor, Middlebury icon and warmest of friends linking generations of students, faculty and staff, Chaplain Scott died in October 2004 at the age of 84.
Charlie was born in Pittsburg September 12, 1920, the eldest of five brothers. As an undergraduate at Ohio State he majored in bacteriology and chemistry and later worked for the University as a lab technician. After his brother Wayne, a navigator on a B-24, was killed in January 1945, Charlie began to have second thoughts about a career in the biological sciences and enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned his Bachelor of Divinity. For two years the young Reverend Scott served as an assistant minister at Washington Park Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Then after a fateful meeting with President Stratton in the summer of 1951, he came to Middlebury College that fall as chaplain and instructor in Religion. Thus began a lifelong relationship with Middlebury College.
Shortly thereafter, he moved his denominational affiliation to the Episcopal Church and was ordained deacon and then priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury. Throughout the next decade Chaplain Scott guided the College through the transition from compulsory chapel attendance to the voluntary Sunday chapel services that many of us who came later remember with gratitude. Chaplain Scott assisted students in forming voluntary religious groups. Within a few years of his arrival at Middlebury, for example, he was instrumental in encouraging and supporting a few Jewish students on campus who were interested in establishing a Jewish cultural and social club, which led to the founding of a Hillel chapter at Middlebury College in 1954.
With wise counsel and grace he brought the campus through the difficult national events and the moral challenges of the 1960’s. By 1969 the Religion Department he founded and chaired for its first eighteen years had three members and he was serving as the President of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. A respected scholar, teacher, and preacher, he was the recipient of numerous academic honors, including a Danforth Foundation study grant, a field archeology grant from Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, and The Kellogg Lectureship at Episcopal Theological School. Chaplain Scott received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Middlebury College in 1992.
In addition to his work as college chaplain, Charlie was active in the greater Episcopalian community, filling in as priest in various parishes around New England and elsewhere. Following his retirement he served for a year as interim rector at Grace Church in Manhattan.
On October 13th graduates of Middlebury College from every decade, campus colleagues and friends, some who had known Charlie during his entire half-century association with the College, gathered along with family and townsfolk to remember and bid farewell to Chaplain Scott. Memories of his voice, deep and clear, reading scripture from the pulpit came to mind as two of Charlie’s grandsons read from the Psalms and brother David offered a moving recollection from childhood years. In his homily Professor of Religion Larry Yarbrough said, “We all have stories to tell and we are longing to tell them.” Indeed!
In eulogies that day at Mead Chapel and the next day at St. Stephen’s, in stacks of letters sent to his wife Tana, and in postings on the Web people have been remembering Chaplain Scott. It should come as no surprise that from so many different sources the same constellation of themes emerge.
He genuinely cared for people and went out of his way to let us know. Chaplain Scott made hundreds of people across several generations feel as though they were one of his four or five closest friends. Again and again he would hug us at the chapel door, deliberately “bump into” us along the College walkways, or invite us over to the house for the evening. He would summon us to his office for what would turn out to be a life-impacting conversation about our future plans. After graduation, he would look us up when he was traveling or call us out of the blue. “When I least expected it, the phone would ring, and at the other end was that wonderful baritone voice and infectious chuckle.” (Sue Work Knirsch ‘59).
Charlie Scott worked his way into our lives and we returned the favor seeking him out at those significant moments as our years progressed. The latest love of our life had to be introduced, some wise counsel about career moves or grad school was needed, the first-born baby was brought to Reunion for a “photo op” in Chaplain Scott’s arms. He officiated at countless weddings of Middlebury couples and is no doubt featured in scores of photo albums across the continent.
He would travel hither and yon on behalf of the College and love every minute. “There he was, diving into a crowd of alumni, rejoicing in seeing all of us again. Without hesitation he remembered me by name.” (Sue Youngquist, Class of 1968) He had an astounding memory for names, but also for all the little details of people’s lives- what your parents did for a living, where you grew up, what sickness your sister had six years ago, everything. He was, quite remarkably, something of a walking, talking, alumni database. He must have sometimes forgotten a name or a face, but not that we ever saw.
He was bigger than life. He was a commanding presence at the front of the sanctuary or the lecture hall. He was a scholar, teacher, and preacher who made the Bible come to life. As Professor Yarbrough mentioned, Charlie was steeped in the study of scripture. He wrestled with the prophets and Paul. He loved the give and take of theological debate and especially loved to engage with the great texts and minds of the 20th Century: Barth, Bonhoeffer, Buber, Bultmann, Niebuhr, and Tillich. His life long study was rivaled only by his passion for classical music. Following retirement he continued to enjoy lectures on campus and concerts on campus. Even in his last days Charlie could be found beside the stereo speakers, eyes closed, “conducting” the great masterpieces.
Few would think of Chaplain Scott as a straightforward evangelist. He was not about to pass out tracts that boil Christianity down to four points. Rather in all these everyday human interactions he embodied his faith in a loving and reconciling God. By embracing the confused and the doubters, the self-righteous and silly, the angry and the hurting, the weak and the strong, Charlie’s way in the world taught us more than any lecture could about the kind of God he worshipped. He taught us by example to love our neighbors as our self.
Chaplain Scott loved life and even as the years and illness took their toll, he was in no hurry to leave us. “More than once, he entered what appeared to be the valley of the shadow, got his bearings, and suddenly detoured,” quipped the Reverend Lucy Pellegrini at the memorial Eucharist at St. Stephen’s.
Charles Powell Scott was part of an amazing generation of college chaplains in an unusually challenging and vibrant time. Recently I spoke on the phone with Chaplain Scott’s long time friend and colleague, the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, former chaplain of Yale University and longtime pastor of Riverside Church in New York. Bill said that when he thinks of Charlie Scott he is reminded of these words from Proverbs 17:22. “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a down cast spirit dries up the bones.” He said, “With Charlie we all were a bunch of damp bones – never downcast and dry.”
We are grateful that the huge cheerful heart – buried under all those folds of liturgical garb – was a part of our lives. For putting the right man in the right place in the right time, thanks be to God.
Chaplain Scott is survived by his wife, five children, and five grand children. Charlie’s two sons graduated from Middlebury, Wayne in 1971 and Charlie, Jr. in 1977. His wife Tana Sterrett Scott is a 1965 graduate of Middlebury. Grandson Matthew Hershenson is a member of the class of 2007. Memories of and tributes to Chaplain Scott may be viewed here. Please share the stories you are longing to tell.