Charles H. Close


Charles H. Close, a longtime Chilmark summer resident, died at his home in Key West, Fla., on Jan. 22, 2016, after a brief illness. He was 79.

Mr. Close was born in 1936 in Norfolk, Va., to Navy Captain B.E. Close and Helen Wright Thompson. In 1945 his parents divorced, and Helen Thompson married author Benedict Thielen of Chilmark and Key West. From age 12 on, Mr. Close spent many of his summers on the Island.

Graduating from Tulane University in 1959, he moved to New York as the folk era blossomed, and began a career as manager and agent for well known folk impresario Harold Leventhal. His roster included not-yet-legendary folk musicians like Pete Seeger and his fellow Weavers, Theo Bikel, Judy Collins, and one client whose loyalties were then still split between folk music and acting: Alan Arkin.

In 1964 Mr. Close came in as a partner in the Mooncusser Cafe in Oak Bluffs for its second and last season. Combining his New York connections and a love of folk music (he was a banjo and guitar player himself), he contributed to that musical tradition on the Island, helping to fix the Mooncusser’s place in history as a nexus of major folk artists whose origins all included a small club in Oak Bluffs. He imported New York talent, like Arkin and Don McLean, whom he had nurtured since the beginning, and in turn exported local talent like Lucy and Carly Simon, guiding them during their transition from “local folk” to New York club acts and first-time recording artists.

In the 1970s Mr. Close switched to visual media, and in 1981 he opened his own media production company in New York City, Close Productions, producing film and video work for commercial clients for the next two decades.

Throughout much of his life, the Vineyard remained a constant; he was a “summer member” of the young Chilmark community in the ’50s and early ’60s, and as an adult was a faithful participant in the Chilmark Sunday softball game for many years, and a dedicated small wooden boat sailor, plying ’Quitsa and Menemsha ponds up-Island on many summer mornings. He became an avid windsurfer, and joined the burgeoning ranks of windsurfers both on the Island and in New York. In 1986 he and his then companion, Niki Patton, traveled 39,000 miles of seaside “blue highways” along the U.S. coastline to discover, sail, and review windsurfing locations, upon their return co-authoring “The Boardsailing Guide to the Coastal United States.”

In 1996 he moved to Brookhaven, N.Y., where he focused on garden and landscaping design with landscape designer Kira Madsen, whom he married in 2006. There, he also helped to found the Carmans River Maritime Center, dedicated to preserving the tradition of wooden boat building on Eastern Long Island, as well as to teaching future generations the joys of working with wood.

He is survived by his loving wife Kira Madsen Close, and by his stepdaughter by his first marriage to Johannah Johnson, Kim Wadsworth. He will be greatly missed by the many who loved him and whose lives he shaped on his life’s journey.

Plans for an Island memorial will be announced later this year.