White Bear Lake, MN—Charlotte Preston, a former professor who turned her love of education toward helping retail jewelers, died October 8 following a yearlong battle with cancer. She was 62.
Preston was born in Sublette, KS. She was a graduate of Manhattan Bible College, earned a masters’ degree in English from Kansas State University, and took further studies in the Ph.D. program in rhetoric at the University of Southern California. She began her career as a teacher, first at Marymount College in Salina, KS, then at USC. She became renowned in the jewelry industry through her education work for the American Gem Society. After leaving AGS, she founded Charlotte Preston Catalysts Inc., which provided the education program for the JCK Shows from its early days until the mid-2000s. She also created education programs for the AGTA GemFair, and RJO Shows, in addition to leading a jewelers’ business group.
Though personally very modest, Preston was greatly beloved in the jewelry industry. She was honored by the Women's Jewelry Association in 2004 in the "special services" category of its annual Awards For Excellence, and in 2011 her home chapter, Twin Cities, honored her with its "Shining Star" award, which each chapter bestows annually on one member. Recently the RJO awarded her with its Board of Directors Award, and AGTA presented her with its Leon Ritzler Honorary Member Award.
As word of her passing spread, social media lit up with tributes and personal reminiscences from all sectors of the industry. Ruth Batson, executive director of AGS, posted this:
“It's a sad day today for me and the entire AGS family. Charlotte Preston lost her battle with cancer yesterday. Charlotte was part of the executive leadership team at AGS when we were headquartered in Los Angeles. She went on to lead the Jewelers Education Foundation of the AGS after that. Charlotte embodied the spirit of AGS and its mission to provide retailers with the knowledge and tools to help make them successful. She was a friend and a mentor to me, coaching me in my early career on the intricacies of the industry she loved. My thoughts and prayers are with Mary and Jake and all who are grieving the loss of this amazing woman.”
Georgie Gleim of Palo Alto, CA-based Gleim The Jeweler said, “Charlotte was a remarkable person. Just thinking about ‘how would Charlotte make her way through this discussion?’ helps, and reading her Caring Bridge posts gave awesome insight. She will be greatly missed.”
Jeweler Colleen Rafferty of Christensen & Rafferty said, “Sweetness and an uplifting kindness is how I will remember Charlotte.”
Outside the industry, Preston was very active in her community as a past member of the White Bear Lake Chamber of Commerce, and as an active leader in her church. She served as president of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, MN, and sat on the board of directors of the Mid-America Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Preston also was a gifted author and singer. In a 2002 presentation to her church she said, "I believe we can together arrest what is evil, nurture our children, buffer broken hearts, save this world."
Preston is survived by her wife, Mary Kurth; their son, Jake, (Emma); sister Sharon Stapleton (Roy Van), various nieces and nephews, and many colleagues and friends both in the jewelry industry and in her church and community.
On a personal note, I worked closely with Charlotte during my tenure as editor-in-chief of JCK magazine. Later, when I became editor of The Centurion Newsletter, I asked her to become a contributor and she authored several comprehensive articles on the subject of community involvement and generational perspectives for jewelers. Read them here, here, and here.
I was always amazed by the incredible aura of calm that she radiated, and have said many times that simply to be in her presence was a wonderful antidote to stress. She was the embodiment of the term “grace under pressure,” and many in our industry have sought her wise counsel, which was always thoughtful and never judgmental.
Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. Memorial gifts may be made to White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi or Doctors Without Borders or Caring Bridge.