An Unconditional Gift
— Mary Ann Siegel '66
I’m Mary Ann Garvin Siegel, Class of ’66, and proud mother of Emily ’92 and Margaret ’97.
There is no way I can speak for all alumni. Some of us took Chinese, and some of us – like myself – didn't. But Charles didn't discriminate when he picked his friends. That was his strength. I hope my very personal remarks will spur each of you to hold your own memories of Charles closer to your heart, for they are what will keep you connected to him. And while Charles gave so much of himself to each of us … we each have used, and passed on, his gifts in different ways.
Charles loved his family, his friends and this College. I loved his energy, his generosity and him. I called him my adopted father because he believed in me unconditionally. That wasn’t anything I earned; it was what Charles gave freely to us all.
We met Oct. 8, 1965, Charles’s first year at Connecticut and my senior year when he gave me a ride to New Haven. I was going down for a first date with a law student I’d met at a mixer. That was so typical of Charles, a friend of the law student from their overlap at Yale, to ask me to join him in the VW van, Brady Bunch style. That one-hour chat would last 43 years.
After I married the law student, 722 Williams Street became home base whenever I came back for alumni meetings. It was home for our kids as well. Those were heartwarming, inclusive, fortuitous days, filled with Charles’s cooking, his Chinese proverbs about not working too hard, and his sneaking apples and peanuts into my bag for my flight home.
But what moves me the most is having witnessed Charles’s courage and triumphs, easy to overlook because of his many talents and confidence about realizing his vision. When he led the Conn College Alumni Trip to China in 1980, it was his first trip back. On a tour of an elementary school, I looked over at him as the Young Pioneers were reciting their lessons and I saw tears streaming down his face. He left the room to be alone. Later, I asked him gently what he was thinking. He said it made him very sad to see that China had not advanced more since he left.
Charles’s long journey to implement his and Toby’s incredible gift of the Chu-Griffis collection was a victory of tenacity. He used to read me the replies to the letters he’d written to college leaders, stating his case. We thought the answer to finding a place for the paintings lay in strategy but it was his sheer persistence in making himself heard that paid off.
Charles is listening today with joy and humility, I feel. To Paula, Ellen, Kevin and Lee, thank you for sharing your parents with us. You have your Dad’s passion, your Mom’s optimism, and their combined wisdom and sense of humor. That legacy will sustain you abundantly.
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