May 6, 2011

Vermont Public Radio's Will Curtis dies; voice of "The Nature of Things"

Will Curtis, former voice of The Nature of Things on Vermont Public Radio, one of the first pubradio programs to address environmental concerns, died April 18 in his sleep at home in Woodstock, Vt. He was 94.

"Amid evocations of the state’s ever popular maple syrup and fall foliage, he would slip in a lesson on how to swing a scythe," the Boston Globe noted in a remembrance Friday (May 6). "Listening by satellite, everyone from farmers to urban dwellers thousands of miles away would marvel at how he turned the mechanics of mowing by hand into a kind of plainspoken poetry."

His commentaries began on VPR in 1978, with national syndication beginning in 1981. After funding for national distribution ended in 1998, his pieces continued on VPR until 2004. His work was compiled in two books, The Nature of Things (1988) and The Second Nature of Things (1992).

Willis Lansing Curtis was born Sept. 25, 1917, in Marlborough, Mass., son of John Arnold and Dorothy Rumsey Curtis. He attended Westminster School in Simsbury, Conn., and graduated from Vermont Academy in 1936. He married Jane Pitkin of Scituate, Mass., in 1940.

The couple moved to Vermont in the 1960s to raise Jersey cattle and run a dairy farm. They purchased the Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock. Curtis fell into his radio career while advertising for the bookshop on a local AM station.

He was preceded in death by four brothers and a daughter, Elizabeth. He is survived by his wife; daughter, Katherine (William) Donahue of Hartland; sister, Louise Hahn of Ontario, Canada; three grandsons, Thomas, Samuel, and James; great-granddaughter, Alex Helena Donahue-Ochoa; sister-in-law, Eleanore Marshall, and cousin, Virginia Clark, both of Marlborough, Mass.; and many nieces and nephews.

Services are 2 p.m. May 7 at St. James Episcopal Church, Woodstock. The family requests donations to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, 6565 Woodstock Road, Rte. 4, P.O. Box 1281, Quechee, VT 05059; or to the Woodstock Historical Society, 26 Elm Street, Woodstock, VT 05091 An online guestbook is here.

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