The following blog post was contributed by Peter Filkins. Peter and Michelle collaborated on The Mount’s Poets on Poets series for many years.
There are people we come across in life who we think will always be there. With her warm big smile, her steadfast presence at events and readings, her bi-weekly columns, and most of all her fine poems and deep love of poetry, Michelle Gillett was one of those people. It is a cliché to say that someone has touched many lives, but Michelle indeed did so, and always in a classy, quiet, and genuine manner. She was a person who not only cared about others, but wanted the very best to come forth and shine within them, and without a thought that something was owed her in return. Having had the genuine pleasure of working with Michelle in planning numerous readings at The Mount over the years, I find it hard to think of her as gone, for her wealth of knowledge and compassion and sheer good sense was always on tap, always at the ready, always knowing and wise and selfless in its application.
As we all know, Michelle cared deeply about the lives of women and young girls, and so many of her columns took on the overt and unspoken ways that women are too often controlled, neglected, or compromised by the powers that be. And yet what she posed against such forces was an indomitable mixture of decency, intelligence, good humor, and imagination that not only helped people understand what was at stake in any given issue, but also how to find the strength and courage within themselves to engage with it on their own. In this way she was not one to thump the podium, but instead had the great gift to make manifest a cause or idea or argument in the minds and hearts of others, and thereby trust them to navigate their own way through the same.
Michelle will be much missed at The Mount, for in many ways she was the embodiment of Edith Wharton’s passionate engagement with the intricacies and foibles of the human heart, whether amid the pomp and corruption of the Gilded Age or the grim enclosure of a New England winter. And like Wharton, Michelle always found a way through, quietly navigating whatever fraught human terrain she traversed by steadily and positively moving forward, greeting each day with her own unique brand of sureness and generosity. Few of us will ever meet as fine a writer and person; all of us could do worse than to aspire to the example that she so gracefully provided us for so many years.