Dear friends and partners,

Today we remember the great Albie Wells, who held a strong belief that lasting social change comes from building power through grassroots member-led organizing and advocacy, and who was largely responsible for founding Common Counsel Foundation.

His legacy continues through the Abelard Foundation’s continued commitment to support organizing in vulnerable communities for progressive change. Today, there is stronger and ever-growing interest and recognition in the power of community organizing strategies within the philanthropic sector. Albie was an organizer who focused, in part, on educating other donors about the power of grassroots social change strategies. Of course, the political landscape has in many ways turned in a direction that is 180 degrees opposed to Albie’s values, which means the need for the grant support Common Counsel and the Abelard Foundation provide is greater than ever.

With Condolences and Love to All,
Laura and the CCF Team

 
Albert Bacheller Wells II

Albert Bacheller Wells II died as he lived: passionately expressing himself in every way available to him, deeply moved by the people in his life, hungry for the world around him, on his feet and working with his hands. As his abilities left him, one after another, he fought for them and then found new interests. He was never idle. He never gave up his sense of what was right. He was the soul of purpose and generosity.

Albert was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on Aug. 9, 1934. He was received by parents Ruth Adams Dyer and George Burnham Wells, sisters Francis and Joel. He grew up surrounded by the town of immigrants built to support his family's business, the American Optical Company, which planted the seed of his life long commitment to reliant communities of all kinds, becoming the centerpiece of his life's work.

Albie, as he was known, attended boarding schools from a young age where being a jock and a clown "saved his bacon". He played football, lacrosse and hockey. Albie lived for summers on Walker Pond, and trips to Megantic Fish and Game Club in Maine, where his first passion for getaway vehicles of all kinds was hatched. He loved his boyhood motorboat and eventually mastered canoes, kayaks, cars, bikes, motorcycles, planes, skis and skates, anything that animated his need to feel freed. He earned his pilots license in 1949 when he was just 15.

Albie went on to Harvard where, as a political science major, he enjoyed being a student for the first time in his life. He played hockey for the Harvard Crimson and was proud of ferocious games against the "Canucks". At Wellesley College he found his second great passion in dark haired, green-eyed Susan Matheny.

Susan and Albie were married in Bronxville, New York, in 1956. Over the next five years their family grew to include daughters Melissa and Kristen, and son George. Albie wrote in his memoir that having his own family to come home to was one of the great "course changes", from his family's tradition of work-centered life, that he achieved. He was deeply proud of being a present father and husband. His mentor, Harold Willens, shared an adage on his deathbed that Albie made his own; "Success isn't relative, it's Relatives".

Albie and Susan spent 4 years in the Air Force in Anchorage, Alaska, fulfilling his ROTC commitment. In the spring of 1960 they moved their family to northern California where Albie, his brother-in-law Al Schreck, and partner Leonard Kingsley built Kingsley, Schreck, Wells and Co., a San Francisco commercial real estate business. Albie was proud of KSW but knew it was not a good fit for him.

In the mid-1960's Susan and Albie together discovered his third and lifelong passion, social activism, and it fired them equally. Susan worked at the micro and Albie the macro level of social change. Albie's work took him all over the country. His causes and campaigns could be a summary of American sociopolitics of the times: participation in crucial presidential campaigns; anti-Vietnam war activities; Business Executives Educational Fund; the Center for Defense Information; Northern Rockies Action Group; Outward Bound; the Greater Yellowstone Coalition; stopping the New World Mine; American Rivers; and the Jenifer Altman Foundation, to name a few. One of Albie's prize accomplishments was making "The Dean's List", Nixon's Major Political Opponents List, alongside friends Stewart Mott and Ron Dellums, and acquaintance Paul Newman. He wore his distinction with humor.

George Wells died at the age of 65, and his father's death laid a claim on Albie that would change his life. He took over as executive director running the Wells family's small foundation. Over the next 40 years Albie's activism returned to its' roots. He steered Abelard Foundation away from a more typical focus on mainstream institutions, refocusing fiercely on providing seed grants for grassroots social change: community development and leadership within, native sovereignty, the health and social issues impacting communities involved with coal and strip mining, farm labor camps, garment sweatshops, and prisons. Albie used Abelard's reputation to create Common Counsel Foundation, a collaborative strategic grantmaking organization.

Finally, Albie recognized his earned status as an elder and gave his time to younger generations of activists, reclaiming Albert as his name. Susan took the lead in their last creation together which became the Windcall Institute. Windcall was developed to provide respite and revisioning to leaders in the nonprofit community in the wide open spaces of southwest Montana. Albert and Susan hosted over 300 residents over 17 years and helped to transform how organizers around the U.S. view their work, but more importantly their self-care, for the long haul.

Albert's family will remember him leading them, hooting and hollering, down powder filled chutes with more power and grace than any skier before or since. They'll remember that living an early life scripted by others changed him into the man who stood as an example to his children to always be true to their own nature. However, Albert's greatest achievement of all was his 61 years of marriage, weaving two very different hearts into a singular love of a lifetime.

A memorial will be held on Saturday, April 22, at Windcall Ranch Barn. Please let us know if you would like to attend at abwellsmemorial@gmail.com. In honor of Albert's life please consider giving your time to supporting others to lift themselves into the kind of lives we all deserve.