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Published on February 26, 2021

A Legacy of Peace

Remembering Dr. Charles Prewitt

Prewitt headshot

The Eastern Connecticut State University community lost one of its most ardent supporters on Jan. 8, when professor emeritus Charles Prewitt passed away at the age of 102. A member of the faculty for more than 60 years and one of the University’s most loyal donors, Prewitt’s long life was defined by his commitment to peace and human rights and his love for his wife, Virginia.

The catalyst for Prewitt’s mission for peace began during World War II. While studying for his doctorate at Louisiana State University, Prewitt was recruited by the U.S. government in 1941 as a chemist for the Manhattan Project, which would ultimately develop the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

Disillusioned about America’s nuclear program, Prewitt reluctantly continued on the project after receiving military orders and threat of imprisonment. When the bombs were dropped, Prewitt underwent a transformation that would lead to a partnership for peace with his wife. The day after the war ended, “we quit.”

Following the war and the completion of his degrees, Prewitt was hired in 1952 by Willimantic State Teachers College, where he remained until retiring in 1979. Prewitt continued as a part-time faculty member until 2013, teaching peace and human rights courses.

Prewitt family

First row, left to right: David Prewitt ’75, Charlie Prewitt and Charlie Prewitt Jr. ’72; Second row: niece Alice Matthews, great-grandson Walker Reifschneider, granddaughter Gina Prewitt, great granddaughter Lexi Wilton, grandson-in-law Heath Wilton, daughter-in-law Carol Prewitt and granddaughter Tamara Wilton.

Throughout Prewitt’s adventures, his beloved Virginia — who passed away in 2007 — was by his side. In a Hartford Courant interview remembering his late wife, Prewitt said, “If I had married someone who had the same attitude as me and supported me, I probably would have that same attitude today. I’d be racist and conservative. But Virginia, slowly and gently, over 65 years, changed me.”

Prewitt and Nunez
Charles Prewitt with President Nunez.

After an academic career dedicated to the advancement of peace and human rights, Charlie and his wife established the Virginia and Charles Prewitt Peace and Human Rights Studies Endowment in 2002 to support students who are active in the community and demonstrate an interest in peace and human rights. In 2004, the Prewitts received the Herman Beckert Friends of the University Award for their contributions to Eastern and the cause of peace.

Charles and Virginia worked with Philosophy Professor Hope Fitz and others to establish a peace and human rights minor. Approved in 2005, Charlie Prewitt called the minor the high point of his time at Eastern. When Charlie received the ECSU Foundation Faculty/Staff Donor Award in fall 2015, he said, “That (minor) and today’s award are reminders of the importance of peace and human rights in education and that the goal of world peace is possible.”

In 2011, Eastern dedicated the Virginia and Charles Prewitt Peace and Human Rights Conference Room, located in the J. Eugene Smith Library. On the plaque beside the door is a quote by Prewitt: “If you don’t have a dream, how can your dream come true?”

To donate to the Virginia and Charles Prewitt Peace and Human Rights Studies Endowment Fund, contact the Development Office at (860) 465-4514.

Written by Michael Rouleau