Charlie was the inspiration for the creation of Charlie’s Table. It was to keep him among us that led to name our new company after him.
Charlie was a friend of mine --- and hundreds of other people. Truly. As his nephew said at the concert celebrating Charlie’s life after he passed on: it was not possible to walk the streets of New York City without some friend stopping Charlie to say hello.
Charlie was a big human being (6’4”) with an even bigger red heart of gold.
His table at Etcetera Etcetera, his favorite New York restaurant where the recipes for our gluten free pasta and two of our sauces were created, and his Saturday night kitchen table, were always filled with friends – old, new and just met.
An eleventh generation American, Charlie truly lived “everyone is welcome.”
The words I associate most with Charlie were those of his constant refrain: “How can I help you?”
Charlie had a knack for bringing out the best in other people. His instinct was to do the right thing – even when it went against his own self-interest.
Here’s what the New York Times had to say when it profiled Charlie in 1998:
Born in Schenectady, N.Y., he attended Harvard, where he majored in French, and studied piano. He also played in the cello section of the college orchestra… After graduation, while teaching French at a private school in New Hampshire, Mr. Hamlen started a chamber music series. At the suggestion of some friends, he considered going into management.
In retrospect, Mr. Hamlen says that his bold decision to shake up his life at 34, move to New York City with no money to speak of, and begin a new career, was an outgrowth of confronting himself. Having previously been married, he now understood that he was gay.
''I was still uncomfortable about it,'' he said. ''But I subliminally had accepted it already. I knew that New York would help me figure it out.''
When his friends started dying, Mr. Hamlen felt compelled to respond with more than just personal care. There had already been occasional AIDS benefit concerts called Music for Life, presented by classical musicians. He thought that this work should be continuing, and national.
''I remember grappling with the possibility of changing my life and taking this on,'' he said. ''One moment you think, what a great thing; the next you think, are you out of your mind?''
What emboldened him was the reactions of many clients when he told them he would be leaving. ''The first person I talked with was Andre Watts,'' Mr. Hamlen recalled. ''Andre said, 'Charlie, I've wanted to be involved for a long time, but no one asked me.' The same happened with James Galway. The first words out of his mouth were, 'What can I do to help?' ''
What the Times article didn’t mention was that the management firm Charlie co-founded became IMG Artists, an agency which represented some of the biggest stars in the classical field, such as Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, Thomas Hampson, Leonard Slatkin, Mark Morris, Cecilia Bartoli, Van Cliburn, Renee Fleming, Joshua Bell, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Michael Tilson Thomas and dozens of others.
The non-profit Charlie founded was named Classical Action.
Ultimately, Charlie spearheaded a merger between Classical Action and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the Broadway response to AIDS, to minimize monies going to administrative overhead and to maximize monies going to people in need. Broadway Cares had already reached beyond its initial mission of helping people with AIDS to also help, among others, people who were food insecure.
Soon after the merger is when we met. I was a founder of Broadway Cares. I had also changed my life to take my unique place in the AIDS Epidemic. We pretty instantly became best friends. Sound familiar?
But back to Charlie’s life.
Sixteen years later, after Classical Action was well established, Charlie decided it was time for him to move on. He returned to a management position at IMG Artists for a few years. At the last phase of his life, while always keeping a hand in Classical Action, Charlie was consulting artistic director for the amazing musical nature/sculptural world of Tippett Rise and full time artistic director of the world renown Orchestra of St. Lukes.
Can I say it any better than that his doctors, nurses and hospice care workers from his prolonged illness at the end of his life took time out of their busy schedules to attend his life celebration? That people even flew in from Europe to pay him homage?
Being his friend was a huge gift to me. It reminded me daily to ask: What can I do to help? And when there is a decision to make: What is the right thing to do?
I hope this bit of telling encourages everyone who reads this to follow his life lessons and BE LIKE CHARLIE.
A Friend of Charlie, David S. Landay, Esq.