Without Fanfare

Dec 10, 2010 | 9 comments

Willard’s Portrait by Jane White

       The remaining assets of the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation left Oysterville early yesterday in a U-Haul truck. There was no goodbye party, no fond farewell – just an aura of confusion.
     The truck contained a portrait of Willard by Jane White, the well-known portrait painter wife of Alastair Cooke.  It also contained Willard’s desk, his typewriter, and the “core collection” of the Willard R. Espy Library – the 750 books that had originally come from Willard’s personal libraries in Oysterville and New York.  According to their description in the Espy Foundation’s Articles of Incorporation on file with Washington’s Secretary of State, those books dealt with language, particularly the lighter side, as well as word origins, usage, dialects, humor, oddities, word play and collections of light verse.
            The dissolution of the Foundation (and of the library, itself,) has been confused, as was its relatively short tenure in Oysterville.  Begun in 1997 as the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation, it gradually changed its purpose to include visual arts and changed its name first to the Espy Foundation and, finally, to just Espy – a designation objected to by some of my cousins for the confusion it caused with living individuals with that surname.  (Perhaps it should be pointed out here that no member of the Espy family ever served on the Foundation’s Board of Directors or was ever asked to do so.)
     Over the years, the Foundation became known for the artists’ and writers’ residencies that it sponsored.  This was another matter of confusion because, according to the Foundation’s “statement of purpose,” its reason for being was the establishment of a library.  That there was a small library building housing Willard’s books in Oysterville was unknown to most people of the peninsula community.  Few people, even those of us who live in Oysterville, had ever been in it; it was not open to the public.
    Several large donations of books were made to the Foundation over the years – some by prominent philologists who wanted their own specialized “word book” collections to join Willard’s, and some garden-variety books from other sources.  Those books, (200 boxes I recently heard), were never removed from their shipping boxes except to be inventoried – no room for them in the tiny library building.  Those books have been in storage.  There is some confusion as to which of them were included in the U-Haul load – hopefully they were those that rightfully belonged with the “core collection.”
     The last bit of confusion concerns the final destination of the books.  They are going to the Smiley Library in Redlands, California – a city library where one of the Foundation’s worker-bees had a contact.  There is talk that  a special section or room will be dedicated to the collection.
     Willard and several other Espy family members (over a span of  two generations) were graduates of the University of Redlands, and it would make far greater sense if the books were going there to be used by scholars interested in word play, language origins, etc.  I don’t think the books were offered to the University.  Surely they would have gladly accepted the books of one of their most celebrated alums?
     Perhaps some of the confusion will be clarified as time goes by.  Chinook Observer staff writer Cate Gable is in the process of writing the “official obituary” of the Willard R. Espy Literary Foundation.  I am looking forward to its publication.


  1. Jan

    I was only privileged to meet Willard once… I think it might have been the champagne opening of the South Pacific production in Ilwaco about … OMG… 25 years ago? I introduced myself, and then became completely star-struck, unable to find a single next word. His countenance reminded me of Twain, Einstein, and the “favorite uncle” I never had. You were so fortunate to know him well, and I know it is difficult to let go of this piece of your history, so to speak. My students directly benefited from the Espy Foundation several times and I am glad I once got to shake his hand.

    • Jennifer Trump

      Wow, I’m too late to meet him, too late to donate to the library? Ouch. We love his works.

      • sydney

        Yes, it is much too late. Willard died in 1999. The Willard R. Espy Library ‘died’ with the Espy Literary Foundation a decade later, in 2010. The books are now part of the Special Collections at the A.K. Smiley Library in Redlands, CA.

  2. Paul R. Brent

    Makes us all want to get busy planning our estates and bequests.

  3. sydney

    Actually, as I apparently didn’t make clear at all, the Espy Foundation was not a part of my history at all — nor was it a part of the family history in any way, except that it carried Willard’s name and was begun with his personal reference book collection. In fact, family members were not particularly welcomed as participants in the Foundation. I imagine most of us will feel relieved now that the source of all that confusion is gone.
    As for my uncle Willard, himself — you are right on! He was a wonderful man, a fine writer, and looked “the part” to a tee! Willard I miss every day!

  4. Betsy

    Your theme – “confusion” – says it all!

  5. Anita K. Boyle

    This is very sad news. The residencies in Oysterville through the Willard R. Espy Foundation were extremely valuable to many writers and artists. In fact, some of the sixty poems I wrote there will be included in my soon-to-be-published poetry volume, What the Alder Told Me. The residencies provided a wonderful, quiet space, and a generous amount of time, and directly contributed to the completion of many writers’ novels, poems and other works. The service the foundation provided was significant in the development of the participating writers’ skills. I’m sure the Espy Foundation will be missed.

  6. Jim Sayce

    This is somewhat sad in that I had hoped the Espy Foundation would’ve survived and thrived. I don’t know much about it other than their occasional publications and events. Tough time for not-for-profits.

  7. Cate Gable

    Note the “official obituary” may never be written, except by Sydney in her next book!

    However, if anyone wants to send some comments to me I’d love to include a few in the Chinook Observer story. Thx, CG

    PS — write me at categable@gmail.com


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