Book Fest co-founder dies


Cal Otto, one of three men who founded the Virginia Festival of the Book in 1994, died November 23 in Colorado Springs at age 79.

"He and I and Tom Dowd are typically credited with starting it," says Heartwood Books owner Paul Collinge, "but the actual ball got started when he walked into the shop and said, 'Let's do it.'"

Otto also developed the Virginia Arts of the Book Center dedicated to books, printing and printmaking before moving to Colorado Springs in 2001, where he was a Pikes Peak Library District Board of Trustees member.

Otto was born in Detroit, and met Patricia Reed, whom he married in 1954, in Colorado Springs. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1958, he worked for publishers Prentice-Hall and Bolt, Beranek and Newman. His wrote a textbook called Management of Training in 1970, bought a company called Wood Flong Corporation in 1972, and a paper mill in England.

"He had this background as a business executive and was quite successful," says Collinge.

And he had "an almost obsessive interest in printing," adds Collinge. Otto was one of the founders of the American Ephemera Society and was elected to the American Antiquarian Society.

Collinge reveals a story he and Dowd could not tell while Otto was alive about Otto showing up for a meeting with a huge amount of blood on him. "He said there had been a car fire on 21 Curves and they pulled this guy out, and he may have been dead," remembers Collinge.

Later, Collinge read about two people getting an award for their heroics in that accident. "They said a guy in a suit was there but had left," says Collinge, and Otto instructed him and Dowd not to tell.

"Wherever he went," says Collinge, "things happened."

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Thanks for the memories - you will be missed.

I have so many fond memories of Cal. He was a man of many interests and when they intersected with mine it could be very rewarding. Cal often allowed me to draw on his huge library and collection for period illustrations that I used in the program materials generated for the domestic and international programs I designed, developed, and delivered for U.Va.’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

For one of our Civil War Symposium Cal produced a beautifully illustrated copy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Farewell Address to his Army of Northern Virginia on April 10, 1865, the day after he surrendered the army to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. This one-of-a-kind piece was distributed to each participant. Cal didn’t want any credit; his reward came from the sharing of his collection with an appreciative audience.

When Paul Collinge, Cal, and I, in a discussion in the wonderful Heartwood Books on Elliewood Avenue, began to discuss a vision for what became the Virginia Festival of the Book it was a perfect convergence of enthusiasm, vision, and interests. I am proud to have been part of that team and I will miss Cal.

I met Mr Otto while looking for a home in Charlottesville. Not only was he a consummate gentleman, he had more books than anybody. He even had an old working printing press in his basement.

It was with great sadness that the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library learned of the death on November 22, in Colorado Springs, CO, of Calvin ââ?¬Å?Cal” Otto.

Cal was a very significant person in the ââ?¬Å?book” world of bookish Charlottesville, and his accomplishments reverberate far beyond this small community. The Virginia Festival of the Book, the creation of which is largely and justifiably attributed to his interest and drive, attracts national attention and thus, year after year, affects the lives of those interested in literature, books, writing, publishing and so much more.

In our smaller niche of The Friends of JMRL, Cal, as volunteer, board member, President and, post-presidency, in charge of book sales, made significant and lasting contributions to the Friends. His contributions in terms of organization, management, direction and future book sales, have all continued to improve the Friends’ ability to support his enduring passions ââ?¬â?? libraries, literacy, books and all manifestations thereof.

With the passing of so much time since he moved back to Colorado, it is difficult to describe to people who did not know him, his energy and true passion in support of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library and the Friends. His steely determination was masked by his good humor, generous smile and winning ways, but things generally ââ?¬Å?got done” to his satisfaction!

Within the Friends he set the tone for future years. He built upon the legacy of his predecessors, in itself no mean feat. He set the foundation for the significant growth in sales income, which allowed the Friends to provide so much more to the local communities through increased support of library programs.

When his occasional visits to Charlottesville allowed him to drop in on us, he was warm in his encouragement that we continue The Mission: build on the contributions made by those who preceded us: namely Cal, and Arthur and Jane Hess. Alas, all three are no longer with us.

So we are saddened at his passing, but grateful to have known him, his passion and his dedication. We were blessed that fate placed him here in Charlottesville for those special years, and are thankful for the contribution he made, not only to the Friends, but to the community at large.

Very sincerely,

Tom Whitlock, President;

Peter McIntosh, Treasurer

Sharon Heyka, Secretary

Barry Norris, Book Sale Director