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Charles was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised by his mother Helen Greene and his stepfather Joseph Tilghman. He graduated from Cardoza High School in 1947 and attended Catholic University of America on a full academic scholarship. Charles excelled in the academic world, served as editor of the university newspaper, The Tower, and was among a select group of students named to Who's Who in 1951, all while honing his musical talents. He graduated in 1951 with a bachelor's degree in English and enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served as an air navigator in Korea and as a Public Information Officer editing the camp newsletter. In three years of service Charles earned the rank of 1st Lieutenant. After discharge from the Air Force, he settled in the central valley of California where he had last been stationed.

Charles taught high school English in Fresno while securing his master's degree in English at Fresno State University. He played piano in various jazz ensembles in the Fresno area. Later he moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a doctorate. Cerritos College came calling in 1965, and that became his professional home for the rest of his career. Charles taught English at Cerritos. He distinguished himself quickly, and in 1980, he was appointed Dean of the Fine Arts Division. He continued in that capacity until his retirement in 1991.

Charles enjoyed traveling, and he visited many places around the globe. He particularly loved theater trips to England and ocean cruises to Alaska. Charles continued to live in Pasadena, participating in civic activities such as the Pasadena Arts League and always enjoyed the theater, the Philharmonic and the opera. Charles was a man for all seasons, a raconteur and a bon vivant. He continued to play jazz interpretations of his favorite standards at home on his keyboard until just days before he died.

Charles is survived by his many friends including his university classmate and lifelong friend, Robert Glennon, and by his longtime California families, the Savoies, the Urangas and the McGinnises.