Charles William TAIT

September 8, 1923February 13, 2017

Charles William Tait passed away peacefully on February 13 after a brief illness. His son John was at his side.

An Episcopal priest, longtime teacher, former Department of State official, and veteran of WW II, Charles was a talented linguist with a reading knowledge of several dozen tongues. He was also a scholar of European history.

Born in Boston in 1923, Charles was the only child of British parents, Charles and Jennie (Thorpe) Tait. His father was of Scottish ancestry and grew up in Jamaica. He worked first as a dentist and then as a salesman of dental equipment. Jennie came from Stockton-on-Tees, north of Durham.

As a young child, Charles was fascinated by the sounds of his neighbors in Boston talking in many foreign tongues, including German, Yiddish, Hungarian, and Swedish. Starting in the fifth grade, Charles learned German from a friend’s mother. An elementary school teacher noticed Charles’ aptitude and arranged for him to take the entrance exam for the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America. In grades seven through twelve, Charles completed six years of Latin, four years of German, and four years of French. Learning became the joy and mainstay of Charles’ youth, and helped him to bear the many trials and hardships that the Great Depression visited upon him and his family.

Charles enrolled in Harvard College in the fall of 1941. When Pearl Harbor came, he immediately added intensive Japanese to his studies of German and Russian. He entered the Army in early 1943, serving first as a translator of intercepted Japanese cables, and later as a German translator for American forces on the front lines in Europe. He volunteered for additional duty in Germany when the fighting ended, serving with a special counterintelligence company assigned to track down Nazi war criminals who had gone into hiding.

He returned to Harvard in 1946 to complete his studies, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in comparative philology. There he met Katharine Jane Russell, daughter of British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Dora Black Russell. They married in 1948 and had five children. Charles’ experience of the terrible realities of war led him to seek a peacemaking role in the Department of State. His academic knowledge and military-intelligence experience made him a natural fit for the Intelligence Branch, where he covered Czechoslovakia in the Eastern European section from 1950 to 1958.

In the 1950’s he began to experience a call to the ministry, which led him to attend Virginia Seminary from 1958 to 1961. He was ordained as an Episcopal priest in Plymouth, England, in 1962. He taught for two years at Bishop Tucker College, an Anglican seminary in Uganda. He served as a parish priest in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and then on an interfaith peace committee of the American Friends Service Committee in New York City, working to end the war in Vietnam.

In the second half of his career, Charles decided to focus his skills and hopes for peace on teaching. He often said, “To do good in the world, become a teacher.” A friend from Virginia Seminary invited Charles to work at the Salisbury School in Salisbury, Connecticut. There Charles taught French, German, Latin, theology and European history from 1968 to 1987. He stayed in touch with many grateful students long after his retirement.

By the time Charles retired from Salisbury School, all his family members lived far away. Charles moved to Seattle in 1990 to be close to his son John. Though a New Englander at heart, Charles often said his move to Seattle was one of the best decisions he ever made. He joined a vibrant group of intellectual friends, mostly retired history professors, for a book discussion group, and he studied a new language almost every year. He enjoyed the close proximity to John and his family; he often said that the birth of John and Katherine’s twins in 2000, who came along more than a decade after his other grandchildren, was the surprise and delight of his later years.

Charles is survived by his former wife Katharine Russell Tait (“Kate”); Laura Hubbs Tait (widow of David Tait); Anne Tait (Bob Bonner); Jonathan Tait (“John”) (Katherine Kirkpatrick); Andrew Tait; Benjamin Tait (Laura Zacchi); and seven grandchildren: Aaron Tait, Aidan Tait, Eli Bonner, Alec Bonner, Max Bonner, Gwendolyn Tait, and Alexander Tait. He is predeceased by his son David.

Memorial gifts may be made to either: 1) Boston Latin School Association, 27 School Street, Suite 300, Boston MA 02108 (or online at; or 2) Joshua Whatmough Library Fund, University of Washington Foundation, 4333 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105 (or online at

February 22, 2017

Arrangements under the direction of Acacia Memorial Park & Funeral Home, Seattle, Washington.


Charles William TAIT

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Guntis midchens

January 18, 2018

Charles was an amazing student of Estonian language at the University of Washington in the mid- 1990s. His rich life experiences enhanced our class discussions of world politics, history and culture, and of course it was always great to explore our deep, shared interest in the complex, intricate details of Estonian grammar! Thank you, Charles, for being who you were.

Erik Sletteland

March 26, 2017

I am sorry to be learning of Mr Tait's passing just now. I took two courses with him while at Salisbury. The first was German history from the rise of Bismarck to the fall of Hitler. The second was on totalitarianism where we read books by Bonhoeffer, Ignazio Silone, Victor Frankel and Bruno Bettelheim. The latter was the hardest and easiest course I ever took. Hardest because the amount and depth of material we covered; easiest because of how infectious & compelling Mr Tait was. It was the best class & he was the best teacher I experienced throughout my education. God bless his memory & the rich legacy he left to those fortune enough to learn from him. Erik Sletteland (Salisbury '74)

Tim Davis

February 27, 2017

He expected so much of his students ... And gave considerable more. He really made learning worthwhile.

Chris Fisher

February 27, 2017

Charles Tait was a fantastic influence as one of my teachers at Salisbury. His in-depth knowledge, compassion, sense of humor, and willingness to coax the best from all of his students etched him permanently in our minds and hearts. Fine human beings like Charles Tait help influence and mold future generations. He will not be forgotten!

Jake Fricker

February 27, 2017

I knew Mr. Tait in my senior year at Salisbury. I was impressed with his knowledge of the places I had lived in prior to arriving at Salisbury. I learned more from him outside of class than from almost any other teacher. jake Fricker

Hugh Whipple '72

February 27, 2017

Charlie Tait was an unusual teacher from my experiences with him. His Theology class took on a whole different character from my Sunday School days when I was young. He taught like it should have been interpreted. Never ventured outside Theology Class with him but heard about very unique experiences in his foreign language classes. One of the last from an era that will be sorely missed.

Robert Bailey ('73)

February 27, 2017

"Mr. Tait" taught naturally. He was unusually sensitive to modern cruelty in war and injustice. Those feelings could rise up as lucid, focused anger or they might be dismissed by his rich, inclusive laugha touch of humor that somehow stayed kind. His love of knowledge was evident. I remember him talking to his son Andrew one time (then 11, maybe) about some philosophical conundrumas an equal. He impressed on me deeply what real education is. Thank you Mr Tait. My prayers are with you and your family.

Michael Gans

February 27, 2017

I had the pleasure of being one of two students enrolled in an advanced German Literature course taught by Charles Tait at Salisbury School in 1980. He left a lasting impression on me as one of the finest teachers I had ever had. He impressed me with the breadth and depth of his knowledge, but also with his kindness.
Michael Gans, Class of '81, Salisbury School

Robert Levinson

February 27, 2017

Charles Tait was a wonderful teacher and a terrific human being. He was somewhat of a mentor to me during my freshman year at Salisbury, and was always open to different points of view.

Keith Collins

February 27, 2017

Few teachers could leave as lasting an influence as Charles Tait, who was my advisor at Salisbury. He was one of the strongest when it came to engendering intellectual curiosity and rigor. I remember him as the brightest light present in my time at Salisbury.