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Former CSD Chair Charles Klim Remembered as Gentle Leader, Gentleman

black and white photo of Charlie Klim at desk
Charles Klim ’50, MSSp ’53, taught at Emerson for 33 years.
Photo/lEmerson College Archives

By Erin Clossey

Emerson’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department prides itself on its spirit of camaraderie with every faculty member and student feeling empowered to develop ideas and try new methods.

“Charlie created that,” said Sandy Cohn-Thau, who retired last year as director of clinical education and graduate program director. “I think his enduring legacy is that is still what fuels the department now.”

Charles Klim ’50, MSSp ’53, a professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Emerson for 33 years and chair of the department for 25 years, died May 18 at his Gloucester, Massachusetts home at the age of 93.

Born in Stoughton, Massachusetts, Klim graduated from high school in Groton, Connecticut, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II, before earning his bachelor of arts and a master of science in speech from Emerson.

In 1959, he completed his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and returned to Boston to begin teaching at his alma mater. He became chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders in 1964, and led the department until 1989. He also served as director of the Robbins Center.

While at Emerson, he was very active in a number of College committees, including the Academic Policy Committee, the Committee on Committees, Graduate Council and the Graduate Study Board, among others. He retired from the College in 1992.

Jan Jacobs Greenhawt ’69, a retired speech-language pathologist and member of the Emerson Board of Advisors, said that during her time as an undergraduate studying Communication Disorders, the field of speech pathology was changing in its therapeutic approach, becoming more data-driven and outcome-based.

“Dr. Klim brought on board an outstanding professional staff to ensure that our undergraduate program was one of the best in the country,” Greenhawt said.

Klim was chair of CSD in 1985 when Cohn-Thau came to work at Emerson. She remembered him as someone who allowed faculty to develop ideas, and would go to bat for anything faculty felt was worth trying. He exhibited a “gentle kindness” toward faculty and students.

“I think he was a strong leader, but not because he imposed his strength,” Cohn-Thau said. “He was a strong leader because of the way he empowered us all, faculty and students alike.

President Emerita Jacqueline Liebergott, who led the College from 1993-2011, taught in the CSD department before working her way up through the administrative ranks to become president. 

“Charlie was kind and giving. He made me smile and found ways to help me grow,” Liebergott said. “I and his college owe him lots. He guided his faculty and his students to achieve their potential, and we loved him for it.”

Long after Klim retired, he remained connected to the College, said Barbara Rutberg ’68, who studied speech pathology at Emerson, but knew Klim through her later work as director of alumni relations. He and his wife, Helen (Ells) Klim ’51, who died in 2013, would attend every Emeriti Faculty Breakfast at Alumni Weekend, Rutberg said. 

“If there was a student helping out at Alumni Weekend and he found out [they] were a student in the [CSD] department, he pulled the student aside and had a long chat,” she said.

Family was incredibly important to them, and Charlie and Helen did everything together.

“They were really a team. Not just with family, but in their community work and in caring about the College,” Rutberg said. “They were college sweethearts, and it lasted until she passed away.”

Klim enjoyed traveling, according to his Legacy obituary, and visited Mexico, Chile, Asia, and Europe. He had a broad range of interests, and loved to read about history, science, biography, and ethnography.

He leaves three children: Sarah (Klim) McCurry and her husband, Michael, of Pocatello, Idaho; Charles Klim of Buxton, Maine; and Peter Klim of Gloucester; and three grandchildren: Kassidy and Ashlyn McCurry, both of Pocatello, and Lauren Klim and her husband, Hunter Sexton, of Eustis, Florida.

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