We at Harvard Square Library are saddened to learn of the death this past Friday, March 7, 2014, of the Rev. Dr. Herbert F. Vetter, our founding director. Rev. Vetter passed away on Friday morning, March 7th. He was the Minister at Large at the First Parish in Cambridge, Mass., Unitarian Universalist, from 1967 to 1990. He founded both the Cambridge Forum, a progressive radio program staged at First Parish, as well as the Harvard Square Library, named for the location of the parish which he served for so many years.
I first came to know Herb when I started work as Harvard Square Library’s second director in the fall of 2011, although I had known Herb by reputation for many years through his work on the HSL website and digital library. I didn’t know Herb well, personally, but I feel I have come to know him through his work. In fact, when I traveled to Cambridge to learn the workings of HSL as its new Director, I was struck with how much the site itself was a reflection of Herb and his interests. Herb had converted the basement of his Cambridge home into a workspace for HSL. Brightly lit by garden-level windows, the walls featured some of the symbols of religious liberalism that he had created for the site. The shelves were lined with his books, and he kept some of his HSL-related publications, like Notable American Unitarians (both series) prominently displayed. He generously gave me copies of both texts.
The well-ordered large desk sported a spiffy iMac computer, with a scanner right next to it. Here was where Herb created one of the earliest websites about Unitarian Universalist history and biography — and he did this as the retirement project of a man rapidly approaching his eighties. Into his ninetieth decade at the time of my visit two and a half years ago, I found myself thinking that I could only hope to be as creative and intellectually curious about new technology in my advanced years as Herb so clearly had been in his.
I spent two days in Cambridge that fall with Herb and his wife, Dorothy, who survives him. The more I came to know Harvard Square Library, the more I came to realize that this site was a reflection of the man and his various intellectual and social justice interests. The heart of Harvard Square Library, as created by Herb, was devoted to several key subject areas: the biographies of important figures in Unitarian (and later Universalist, as well) denominational history, the history of the Cambridge and Harvard environs in which he had spent so much of his working life, twentieth-century liberal religious theology and philosophy, and of course, social justice. Over the course of our conversations, these topics came up again and again as important to Herb and what he had accomplished with Harvard Square Library, and they provided valuable insight into what Harvard Square Library meant to Herb. Even more than radio or the printed word, other media in which Herb brought his ideas and passions to the world, Harvard Square Library helped him create a ministry with a worldwide audience that reached over 100 countries, for free, through the power of word and image printed and published on the World Wide Web.
Although some of the emphases of HSL have changed with the change of hands, I am honored to work in the tradition that Herb started, and most of all, I hope that we maintain his ministry of making quality liberal religious materials accessible for free to that wide audience that matter so much to him. Rest in peace, Herb, and know that you will be missed, and remembered with love and gratitude.
-Emily R. Mace, Director
March 7, 2014