Charlotte Robertson Cresswell was busy caring for others right up until her passing on February 16, 2018. A woman who always had a plan, she spent her last days calling friends and family to wish them well and ask their blessing on her last earthly adventure.
Born Charlotte Helen Robertson on November 4, 1923, she spent her earliest years in Oakley, California, on a farm that raised ducks, almonds, and apricots. Her summers were spent gathering almonds and “cutting cots” which the family dried in the sun. They delivered the ducks to the kitchens of Chinatown where she learned to eat with chopsticks at a young age and gained a deep appreciation for Cantonese cuisine. After losing the farm in the Depression, the family moved to Alameda where her father was a pioneer in the field of crop dusting. Her mother, having been orphaned at a young age, made sure her four children were tenderly loved.
Charlotte graduated from Campbell High School and enrolled at San Jose State College just before Pearl Harbor. At twenty, she lost her heart to a young fighter pilot, Gregor Bronson of Tacoma, and they married. Greg was lost over the South China Sea in 1945. Like millions of others in the Greatest Generation, Charlotte picked herself up and started over. She was working in a typing pool in San Francisco when she met a handsome Army veteran from Eastern Oregon. Although now a city girl at heart, she married him and moved to a wheat farm northwest of Pendleton, where they began a family. Bob and Charlotte were married for forty years until his passing in 1986.
Charlotte never missed an opportunity to reminisce about her California roots. She and Bob often regaled the family with tales of post-war San Francisco, a time when anything seemed possible. They carried their dreams with them to the farm, but as with most farmers, they were sorely tested over the years.
Charlotte brought skill and discipline to every task. She rose daily at 5 am, even in retirement.
It was her nature to be kind and loving to all children, especially her own. She kept a beautiful house, served delicious home-cooked meals, and was an unfailingly cheerful and loyal friend. Meanwhile, she managed the farm and family budgets and ran to town for parts whenever a machine broke down, which during harvest could be several times in a day. She could diagnose and replace a sheared cotter pin, and she never met a solenoid she liked. She earned a reputation among header punchers and cat skinners for laying the best table in the county, even if it did come on a lace tablecloth. She read cookbooks like novels, especially anything by or about James Beard. She had a knack for replicating dishes from fancy restaurants, most notably the bar-b-que crab from Jake’s Famous Crawfish. An exotic dish for a wheat farm, it was eclipsed only by her Chinese feasts, to which Pendleton gentry jostled for invitations.
Charlotte was an active PTA member for all four of her children, and taught home economics classes through Home Extension. She was a devoted member of the Holy Redeemer Episcopal church, serving for many years on alter guild. In 1988, as a member of vestry, she and long-time friends managed the 100th anniversary renovation of the church she called the “Little Brown Jug.” She was a quiet but proud feminist who gently persuaded the church to involve more women in leadership.
After Bob’s death, Charlotte left the farm to live in Pendleton. She was thrilled to have neighbors again, but after 17 years in town, as she aged and her dearest friends passed on, she decided to move closer to her Portland family. Four days before her 80th birthday, she drove herself to Portland, to begin a new chapter at Holladay Park Plaza. After forty years on the farm, she reveled in her seventh-floor view of Portland’s city lights. Within a year she was elected president of the resident’s association, serving two terms. When she decided to move from her apartment to the skilled nursing floor in her last days, she reflected often on what a good decision she had made fourteen years earlier. Her time at HPP was enriched by deep and loving friendships with both residents and the many talented staff. It was a wonderful “last chapter.”
Charlotte never stopped learning. She relied on Snapchat and Facebook to keep up with family and friends, read copiously on her Kindle, and never cheated at solitaire on her iPad. She was a jigsaw genius. She could spot a piece from across the room, walk over, and pop it in. Her mind was completely clear, and her memory intact, until the very end. As the kids emptied her apartment, they would run downstairs to the second floor to get the story on this memento or that photograph. “You’re testing my brain!” she would exclaim. She always passed.
Most importantly, Charlotte excelled at the special love only a grandmother can give. She loved generously and without judgment. She met each grandchild where they were and celebrated every success for the special moment it was for that child. She took the time to care for everyone’s best friends and significant others as if they were her own. She called everyone “dear.”
Charlotte was preceded in death by her husbands Gregor Bronson and Robert Cresswell and her brothers William and Donald Robertson. She will be sorely missed by her beloved sister, Margaret Ciraulo (Tony), of Saratoga, California; her four children: Sandra Mico (Greg) and Joyce Cresswell (Dick Cherry) of Portland; Rob (Nancy) of Washougal, Washington; and Don (Kelly) of Helena, Montana; and 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
The family wishes to thank the staff and residents of the Holladay Park Plaza for their loving care and friendship; Providence Hospice for its expert management of Charlotte’s transition to the next life; and Dr. Marian Hodges for her stellar care and kindness over many years.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts to Pendleton Foundation or the Holladay Park Plaza Residents Foundation which assists residents in need at the end of life. A celebration of Charlotte’s life will be held at 2:00 pm on Friday, February 23, 2018, at Holladay Park Plaza, 1300 NE 16th Ave., Portland, OR.