Vermont lost one of its most accomplished and compelling characters when Charlie Houston, 96, died on Sunday at his Ledge Road home in Burlington. A pioneer in Himalayan mountaineering, high-altitude medicine and international relations — he directed the Peace Corps in India — he was fully engaged in life until he left it. As recently as 2007, he was talking up universal health care on a Church Street soapbox.
I remember the first time he called, to invite me to lunch at his place. I arrived to find a charming old man, who was virtually blind, padding about a house filled with evidence of his adventures. With a little prompting, Houston would recount the stories himself: his near-death experience on K-2; the lab in which he experimented with human fitness at high altitudes; his efforts to launch a medical Peace Corps; his friendship with Phish keyboard player Page McConnell.
Houston never lost interest in others. At one point, he developed such a fan club of middle-aged women that it was dubbed “Charlie Angels.” Charlie’s with the real angels now.
Photo by Matthew Thorsen.