Charles Hadley loved to tell the story (and a master storyteller he always was) of one of his favorite friends (the whimsical wonderful poet Roberta Chalmers) telling the story of one of her favorite friends (the even more famous poet Robert Frost) climbing the basement stairs with her one midnight weary. She had been tackling laundry, he had been mutely assisting her, and then out of the clear blue and a heretofore prolonged silence, he turned to her and pronounced that straightforward credo. No preamble, just that succinct if/then sentence. A simple aspirational connection between this world and the next. Unvarnished but deep. Vernacular form conveying eternal content.
Charles would always smile and sigh and nod at the humble phrasing and ageless wisdom of Frost’s observation and the modesty of the story’s setting given the world-class characters it featured. And that was SO Charles: appreciative of beauty and value and integrity wherever he found it, and his wide curiosity, energy and range of talents and sensitivities led him on a long lifetime of adventures and discoveries, many of which he shared with a broad variety of audiences.
Born on January 24, 1928, in the small mountain town of Elkin, NC, for which he always maintained an affection, Charles Owen Hadley was the second child and only son of C. O. Hadley and his lively wife Maude Parks Snow (one of the three fetching Snow sisters.) Ninety-two years later (actually only two weeks or so short of his 93rd birthday), Dr. Charles O. Hadley, Charles A. Dana Professor of English Literature and Language and Professor Emeritus of Queens University of Charlotte, died on January 7, 2021, in Charlotte, NC.
When the Great Depression hit, the Hadleys moved down the road to the larger town of Statesville, where the family stayed put thereafter. Following his Phi Beta Kappa graduation from Davidson College in 1949, Charles began a glorious year as one of the first Fulbright Scholars (1949-50) to head overseas, specifically to France and England, continuing his studies in comparative literature and linguistics as well as French and Italian literature.
But his education extended beyond the classroom as he traveled extensively throughout the U.K. and the Continent. Western Europe, still recovering from the devastation of WWII, provided an endlessly exciting and complicated array of challenges and perspectives with which this young American could interact, as Fulbright recipients were expected to do. His first-hand experiences and friendships with his own generation’s post-war students from various European countries, their mutual interests in the problems and culture of one another’s homelands and those of the USA (such as politics, economics, race relations, music, film, art), the touchy dynamics between German and French students, the simmering tension in Franco’s Spain, etc. – all were dramatic game-changing and life-enlightening revelations for him.
Returning to this country, he attended Duke University for graduate work in English literature, transferring later to UNC-Chapel Hill, where he studied comparative literature and theatre, performing various roles in theatrical productions of the Carolina Playmakers and down in Manteo at THE LOST COLONY as he worked alongside actors Andy Griffith and Bob Armstrong. He received his Master’s Degree from UNC-CH in 1952 and later returned to grad school to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 1973.
He barely had started his career at Queens College in 1955, when the draft board called him up, and off he trekked to serve in the U.S. Army from 1956-58, after which he returned to civilian life and began his long association with Queens College (now Queens University of Charlotte) in earnest. Dr. Hadley served Queens with distinction from 1955 until his retirement in 2006, during which time he received numerous awards from a variety of educational, civic and governmental foundations: The Queens Teaching Award; later its current and highest iteration – The Hunter-Hamilton Teaching Award; The J.B. Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award; The Lilly Scholar Award; National Endowment of the Humanities Grant (Dante Institute, Stanford University); English Speaking Union Grant (Shakespeare studies in Stratford, England); the J. W. Grier Outstanding Service Award. In 1987 he was designated an honorary alumnus of Queens, and in 1999 he was named North Carolina Professor of the Year by CASE and The Carnegie Foundation.
One of Dr. Hadley’s outstanding contributions to Queens was his creation of a spacious office/classroom that became a popular gathering place for students, alumni and colleagues, all of whom enjoyed dropping by for everything from an informal chit-chat to weightier discussions of favorite topics, including the inestimable value of the fine arts and a liberal arts education; a new play on Broadway; the abiding power of the classics; the exciting innovations of modern authors; the beauty of a particular poem of Emily Dickinson or a sonnet of Shakespeare.
Among the many points of interest in his office was his exchange of letters with playwright Thornton Wilder, whose personal support of Dr. Hadley’s first dramatic production of OUR TOWN at Queens in 1955, resulted in a correspondence between the two. Dr. Hadley’s lair on the second floor of McEwen was a library, classroom, department lounge, museum, gallery and community center all in one. In appreciation of his gifts as an educator, raconteur, advisor, and counselor, upon his retirement, the university transferred a broad sampling of its contents to the campus library, where the Charles O. Hadley Reading Room continues to serve as a popular retreat for students, alumni and visitors.
Another of his passions was English history. He was often heard to say that English kings and queens were like close friends whom he loved – warts and all. Fluent in French, adept in many languages and accents, enthralled by literature and history, he particularly enjoyed virtually everything English or French – in this country or on-site abroad. He was especially fond of eccentrics, like the Mitford family, whose last surviving member Deborah, The Duchess of Devonshire, he and some of the alumni group which the Hadleys led on foreign trips met at her stunning home of Chatsworth.
Alumni especially appreciated his anecdotes of favorite Queens icons, such as the remarkably quirky Anglophile librarian, Rena Harrell; the memorably unique Professor Sara Nooe; the elegant taskmaster Dean Thelma Albright; and, of course, everyone’s favorite, Miss Betty. In addition, Dr. Hadley related interesting stories about many notable visitors to the College, perhaps the most enigmatic of all being poet e.e. cummings, who he had the ticklish task of hosting for a VERY complicated day. Hadley’s tales about that encounter were legend.
Yet another of Dr. Hadley’s greatest passions was music, and all kinds of it: classical, jazz, show tunes, hymns, pop. As a pianist, organist and tenor soloist, he served various musical organizations and church choirs for many years in Charlotte. He was especially fond of singing and playing piano informally with his wife, children and grandchildren, all of whom are avid musicians themselves.
Dr. Hadley’s expertise in the dialects of the American South led to a related career alongside that of teaching. While completing his Fulbright year in England, he was hired as a consultant by Sir Laurence Olivier, who was directing the London cast of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, featuring actors Vivien Leigh and Theodore Bikel. While serving in that capacity, not only did Hadley coach Ms. Leigh as she refreshed the southern accent required for her character, but he was also in close enough proximity to meet some of her illustrious backstage fans and visitors, including Sir Winston Churchill.
Years later and back in this country, Dr. Hadley resumed his work as a dialect coach with a number of well-known actors including Charlton Heston, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, John Travolta, Mary-Louise Parker, Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson. Nick Nolte presented Dr. Hadley with a challenging task when he asked for his help in making him sound like Thomas Jefferson in the Merchant/Ivory film, JEFFERSON IN PARIS. Whatever attempt was made could only be hypothetical, there being no 18th century recordings available for study. Spectacle, yes; accuracy, who knows.
His work as a dialectician for television and movies led to many requests to lecture on his experience and to interviews for numerous newspaper and magazine articles about this side of his career. THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION found his work significant enough to merit a lengthy front page article. Over the years he also appeared on assorted radio and television programs, one of his favorite engagements an NPR interview by Scott Simon for “All Things Considered.”
In 1970 Dr. Hadley met his wife Jane at the University of Georgia, where they were both pursuing graduate degrees in The Department of Drama and Theatre. Two years later they married, and, sharing a love of theatre, art, music, literature, and travel, they worked side by side at Queens for decades, leading tours of their students and alumni over much of western Europe as well as to New York City on an annual basis.
The Hadleys directed and taught individually and collectively through their 48+ year marriage. In addition to their work at Queens, they co-directed plays for other theatre programs including Central Piedmont Community College, many of its Summer Theatre seasons, and The Governor’s School in Charleston, S.C. They themselves also performed in various venues across the city, region, nation, and globe, and in 1999 co-produced the NEA-funded and frequently aired PBS documentary, RAY AND ROSA HICKS: THE LAST OF THE OLD-TIME STORYTELLERS.
In 2004 both Hadleys were honored with the construction of the Jane and Charles Hadley Theater on Queens campus. Thanks to the generosity of many friends, alumni and students, a gala benefit drew a large crowd to attend a Broadway-star studded trio (including son Jonathan), which raised part of the necessary funds to allow the theater’s construction to begin. Since its completion, the theater has been a popular site for both campus and community-wide theatrical and academic events and is currently the home performance space of Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
Upon the approach of Dr. Hadley’s retirement, his colleague, friend and former student Adelaide Davis asked what he would like the college to do. Jokingly, he requested a seated dinner for 200. To his astonishment, Mrs. Davis and a number of hard-working heart-warming friends did just that: the plates were heaped, the goblets filled, the candles twinkled, the crowds assembled, and Charles was duly wined, dined, toasted and roasted – all sumptuously.
“At least y’oughta live, so’s if there isn’t anything, it’ll be an awful shame.”
Charles Hadley lived and continues to live on in that manner. A profoundly good and loving man, who empathized with others’ pain and pleasure with extraordinary intuition and ministered to them with a blend of kindness, attention, humor, and practicality which left the afflicted feeling less so. He was the very definition of charm, eloquence, wit and magnetism, but beyond and underlying all that undeniable style there was a real substance and deep humanity. A lifelong searcher for wisdom and meaning on this and any other plain, he was authentically (if not formulaically) spiritual, and no doubt lived a noble and contributive life qualifying him to graduate to that next “anything” which Frost suggests.
Surviving Dr. Hadley is his (he said “adored”; she said “adoring”) wife Jane; two artistic and academic progeny: Amy Hadley Link (Bob) of Clinton, SC and Jonathan Hadley of NYC; two granddaughters Rachel Kelly Wade (John) of Lawrence, KS, and Mary Katherine Kelly of Clinton, SC; as well as a wealth of nephews and nieces, descendants of his late and beloved sister Ruth and her husband Dr. Tom Reeve: Susan Ingle (Dick), Robin Allen (Rick), Tee Reeve (Dana), Tim Reeve (Wendy) and their children and children’s children; Jane’s Holder brothers: Don and John (Vicki); nephews Doug (Stacey) and Mark (Kris) and their daughters; and a legion of Queens pals and colleagues, book club ladies galore, scores of Queens travelling companions, hundreds of students of many, many generations, and amazing, amusing friends of all ages, stages, places, races, creeds, and breeds in Charlotte and around the world. His hailing of fellows was truly well met and reciprocated.
The family is thankful for the generosity and many thoughtful kindnesses of their dear friends and neighbors and long distance family always, but particularly during these difficult times, especially the Crosthwaites, Goodes, Pleasants, Thompsons, Reeds, Terrells, Cayers, Griggs, Keith Pension, Adelaide Davis, Jo Claire Dulin, Betsy Scherer, Sally Wheeler and so many more in the Queens community, and for the invaluable triumvirate of physicians in our own family (Doctors Tee Reeve, Doug and Stacey Holder) whose medical knowledge, counsel, constant accessibility and love have been of irreplaceable comfort and assistance.
In the world’s most lovingly but strictly Jane-enforced quarantine since March 13, Charles never contracted Covid, but even before the pandemic he often said he didn’t want a funeral. And he certainly wouldn’t want anyone to congregate unsafely now, but. . . when the plague passes and folks can come together in person, a gathering will be held to celebrate his life and honor his memory. Anyone wanting to be notified when and where that future event will be held may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
In lieu of flowers, memorials or donations may be made to The Hadley International Fund at Queens University of Charlotte, 1900 Selwyn Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28274; Crisis Assistance of Charlotte, 500-A Spratt Street, Charlotte, NC 28206; or a charity of choice.
Published in Charlotte Observer on Jan. 10, 2021.