Sending comforting thoughts to the Vest family, as we remember the contributions and humanity of this unfailingly decent man. I can't say I knew him well, but I admired him from afar, from the moment he arrived as an outsider to the community in 1990. From 2001 to 2004 or so, I probably generated 1000 letters that he hand-signed for the Presidential Graduate Fellowship Program, one of which now bears his name. While he came to MIT as a stranger, he will forevermore be remembered as a beloved son, and cherished leader.
An absolutely tremendous President and a wonderful man. I count myself very fortunate to have been an MIT student during Chuck's tenure as President. I will never forget helping Chuck with a problem with his Eudora email and being the unfortunate victim of a mass spam attack, and how touched I was by the time he took to write a personal note expressing his thanks and appreciation. President Vest truly cared about each and every person that crossed his path, no matter who they were or what they did, he was truly an exceptional person.
A simple phrase conveyed to me by Dr Vest has been an unending source of inspiration. Searching for guidance I once asked Chuck how he managed to accomplish so much under the pressures of untenable demands and time constraints. He shook his head slowly and with a slight shrug said earnestly, "Just chip away". Such words of wisdom have help me immeasurably. For over twenty years I've recalled our brief conversation and from that found renewed strength to carry on when work or worries seemed insurmountable. When there's always too much to do, just remembering his words has been a great gift.
Please accept my truly heart felt condolences. Chuck was a wonderful human being, leader and colleague.
MIT was incredibly fortunate to have him as president.
I was always struck by how much he knew and cared about all of us.
Whenever I would meet him, years past being a president he remembered every detail
that crossed his path as the head of our faculty:
in my case, my research, career goals, and family issues.
He will be sorely missed.
Chuck was simply the best leader MIT could have had during so many difficult yet inspiring years. I came to understand that his wisdom, strength and sense of purpose were not only exceptional but unmatchable. He had what great leaders always have-the ability to make us walk into the unknown because he was leading. Please know he holds a special place in my heart and mind and always will.
What a great man and a great loss. Chuck Vest presided over MIT at the time when I was recruited and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3c) was set up. It was clear that a certain amount of vision, care and support was being exercised in high places, allowing things to go more smoothly. We later heard that Chuck had mentioned that of the things he had been involved in instigating in in his career, Online Courseware (OCW) and W3C were those he was particularly proud of. In each case it involved MIT taking a new, different, role of leadership in the new connected world. Chuck was clearly a source of that leadership. He was also delightful, courteous and kind as a person. I count myself as one of the many people who have benefited from his insight, advice and support.
Condolences to the Vest family, who must miss him very much.
I wish to send a heartfelt thank you to the Vest family for sharing a great man with so many of us MIT alumni.
In thinking about President Vest, some words that come to mind are: gentleman, cordial, thoughtful, gathers the facts before expressing a position. With this approach he was able to speak to any group and get a respectful hearing. When Linda Sharpe and myself met with him to bring some Black Alumni of MIT concerns to his attention, he listened carefully, questioned several items, and we had a beneficial exchange of ideas. He has always struck me as someone who does the work to get a more complete background before stating a position.
He showed much vision in making it possible for Technology Review to be the premier publication that it is today, making the forefront of technology accessible to both the technical public and the general public.
Dear Becky Vest and the Vest Family,
The Department of Mechanical Engineering would like to offer its sincerest condolences to the Vest family.
A faculty member of the Department of Mechanical Engineering during his tenure as MIT’s president, Chuck Vest is very dear to our hearts, both professionally and personally. The positive impact he had on the Institute and the world as a member of the MIT community was an inspiration to many of us, yet the warmth he showed throughout was not outdone. We felt lucky to have him on our faculty at that time, and felt just as lucky to have him as part of our visiting committee from 2010 until his passing.
For me personally, Chuck seemed to be a good luck charm, nearby during some of the most important moments of my career. He was the president of MIT when I was first hired here more than 12 years ago, and he was the one to induct me into the National Academy of Engineering. In fact, that moment the two of us shared is framed and hanging up in my home.
As a department, we are incredibly honored to have called Chuck one of our own. His vision, dedication, and heart will forever stand as a reminder to us of the type of engineering we wake up for every morning.
Department Head, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering
I send my most sincere condolences to the Vest family.
I've worked at MIT for many years, and have experienced the tenure of several MIT Presidents. Chuck Vest always had a genuine smile, as if he was really happy to see you. I met Chuck and Becky early on a weekend morning, soon after he arrived at MIT from Michigan. There was a run planned for a student group, and while Chuck and my husband John stretched and got ready to run, Becky and I stayed near Calder's La Grande Voile (The Big Sail), and chatted about Michigan, all of us having recently arrived from the University of Michigan. I remember discussing Michigan's Law Library, and what a wonderful place it had been to study. When "the guys" returned from the run, very sweaty, I introduced the Vests to my husband. On our way home we commented on what a nice couple they were, and we were amazed that THE NEW PRESIDENT took the time to run with a bunch of students. But that was Chuck, always friendly, genuine, and welcoming. He will be greatly missed.
I have known Chuck Vest since he was two years old (also his childhood nickname, which I am "not allowed to tell", and he mine, which is also secret). We went all the way through school together, the public schools of Morgantown, WV, and then West Virginia University. He was always the smartest kid in class, and when grading was on a curve, kids groaned when he walked into class on the first day with "there goes the curve". Yet, with all that brilliance, he was always humble, a little shy, always kind and encouraging to others, self effacing, a little grin, a twinkle in his eye, humor, and caring for others.
I met his wife, Becky, at WVU, where we were in the same class, sorority sisters, and French majors. She is a dear friend.
I feel Chuck's passing deeply, as do we all. In such a gentle way, he has made a big impact on us all. My heart goes out to Becky, Kemper, and John,18 and their families.
"A Formal Recommendation to the MIT Corporation," The MIT Faculty Newsletter, Vol. XVI No. 4, February/March 2004.
MIT South Asian Alumni Association offers its condolences to Vest family.
Chuck Vest was an exemplar leader, a man of wonderful sense of humor, great empathy and understanding. He was an inspiration. Chuck was an institution-builder, a consensus builder.
We thank Chuck for all that he did for MIT, and for higher education and innovation -- particularly in the domains of engineering and technology.
With deep appreciative thanks, and prayers greetings.
To the Vest family, from Bill Bonvillian
March 5, 2014
I direct MIT’s Washington Office, which Chuck created near the beginning of his MIT Presidency. I knew Chuck when I was a Senate senior staffer working on science issues, and worked with him frequently when he President of the NAE. He is an important part of the reason I came to work at MIT.
Since the eve of World War 2 when MIT President Karl Compton and MIT Vice President and Engineering Dean Vannevar Bush mobilized MIT science in service to national needs - which of course continued in the postwar by Compton's able successor, President James Killian - MIT has understood that it must play a role in national science policy making. It is a critical part of the job of any MIT President - a complex burden MIT must share for the wellbeing of the nation and the world, and in the service of science. It is part of what makes MIT MIT - it requires us to have a big vision of the future and to act on it.
Chuck Vest understood this visionary role MIT must play very well. He was a remarkable presence on the national science policy stage for more than two decades.
I’ll share two perspectives about him with you on the way he did this.
CHUCK AND THE HILL STAFF:
First, Chuck was a true democrat – small “d.” He had an instinctive way of caring for people in all walks of life, at all levels, and engaging with them. All who knew him can picture the sparkle in his eye, his way of looking right at you, of connecting with you. In all his work over the years on science and technology legislation, Chuck understood something basic about how Congress worked as an institution. There is an old rule on Capitol Hill – “If two principals meet, and there is no staff present, the meeting did not happen.” The role of talented staff in Congress, and in the Executive Branch, is paramount. Chuck knew this – unlike so many others intent on engaging only with Senators and Congressmen, Chuck knew where much of the real work was done, and purposely got to know the staff handing science and technology issues. It was easy for him, because that was him – no standing on ceremony, no pretense, just his honesty and forthrightness. He built a network of staff contacts and friendships all over Capitol Hill over the years, and they deeply respected him. He made friends with the Senators and Congressmen, too, and recent tributes to Chuck from Senator Jay Rockefeller, long the Chair of the Senate Commerce and Science Committee, and from former Congressman Bart Gordon, the former Chair of the House Science Committee, are testimony to his friendship with them. But the staff had a special affection for him. These ties served MIT well, but more importantly, it served the causes of science brilliantly. He was the most active university president of his era with national policy-making, and his special way of connecting at all levels was his “secret sauce.”
AMERICA COMPETES AND TEXAS POLITICS:
Second, he was deeply committed to getting science and technology the resources it needed. Joined by his friend and ally Norm Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, and a fellow winner of the President’s National Medal of Technology, he went to bat in the cause of reversing the stagnation of funding for the physical and engineering sciences. I’ve shared this story with Susan Hockfield, but also wanted to share it with you. Between 1997 and 2003 the life sciences were able to double their federal funding support – a cause he strongly supported. But this effort left the broad front of science advance hanging – he understood it was a common system, the fields of science must advance together otherwise the overall enterprise is jeopardized. He became a relentless advocate of what became the America COMPETES Act, helping to convince and support key members of Congress such as Senators Jeff Bingaman, Lamar Alexander, Jay Rockefeller, and Joe Lieberman, and Congressmen such as Bart Gordon and Sherry Boelert – he was a friend of each –of the need and importance. The COMPETES Act aimed to double physical and engineering science funding at four key R&D agencies, just as life science funding had previously doubled.
But the legislation would go nowhere without President George W. Bush’s support. President Bush’s Science Advisor was opposed. So Chuck became an expert on Texas politics, and he and Norm Augustine found and enlisted a phalanx of Texas business and technology leaders behind the legislation. It was not just important to the nation, but - and let’s get serious now - important to Texas! Chuck and his team met repeatedly with Karl Rove, President Bush’s top Texan political operative. It was the second term, they noted, and it was time to put some important national achievements on the President’s scorecard – why not science and technology support? They won the argument. The President presented his own comparable legislative proposal, and was ready to sign and take an appropriate share of the credit for America COMPETES when it subsequently passed.
It was Chuck at his most deft - a model for how MIT and its leaders can engage with policymakers to meet national needs, to serve science.
America COMPETES, perhaps Chuck’s most important legislative legacy, led to five years of R&D increases in four key science agencies. The levels did not double, but there was real progress, and there was a heritage of taking these issues on that still serves science in Congress and the Executive Branch.
William B. Bonvillian, Director, MIT Washington Office
Kate and I send our sympathies and good wishes to the Vest family. Chuck was not only an outstanding President of MIT for many years, but was an outstanding role model for members of the faculty and others. Chuck displayed an openness and calm interaction as he sought out the best policies, seeking to find the right choice. This was a great example to anyone with decisions to make. In repeated interactions with him, I watched not only what he did but how, and came to admire, and, I hope, learn from the experience. He was an outstanding human being; we miss him sorely.
Peter and I send sympathy to Becky and the family. It’s very hard to lose Charles Vest. I am particularly aware of his heroic leadership in 1992 at the time of the murder of Yngve Raustein, the young and valuable Norwegian student in the Aeronautics and Astronautics program. The unprovoked murder, was in front of MIT but not on MIT property. President Vest made it an MIT event and reached out to Yngve’s family with humanity and compassion, trying to help them and the rest of the community through a terrible time. He continued his personal contact with Yngve’s family for years. He was a good and decent man.
It was one of my great privileges to work under Chuck's leadership first as a member of the President's Office and then in my other roles at MIT. His vision, his clear-eyed sense of what was right even if it was hard, his thoughtful consultation, and his many demonstrations of leadership are lessons I carry with me, as I'm sure other do as well. I'm sorry not to be in Cambridge to celebrate his contributions in person, but I am there in spirit, and I extend my deepest sympathies to the Vest family and others who feel his loss more pointedly than I.
What a loss for MIT, for the nation, for the world, and above all for you, Becky, and your family. I feel so privileged to have known and worked with Chuck for a quarter century, from his first meeting with the presidential search committee (at a hotel near Laguardia airport) to a recent chat in the rotunda of the National Academies building. He changed my life, as he did the lives of literally thousands of others. His wisdom, integrity, humanity, and warmth live on in all those he touched and in all the profound things he accomplished.
Please accept my deepest condolences.
Dear Becky Vest and Vest Family --
I got to know Chuck Vest very well during his tenure as the President of MIT, particularly in the second half of his tenure from 1998 to 2004 during the extra-ordinarily successful period of rebuilding of MIT. I conversed with him at the inauguration of President Rafael Reif in September 2012.
Chuck was a scholar-gentleman-administrator. Today's MIT is an outcome of Chuck's leadership in many small and big ways. The landscape of MIT changed during Chuck's tenure. New buildings, new labs, new infrastructure. And then there were less visible but very productive changes such as reduction of number of courses to be taught by professors so that they may contribute to research.
Chuck was an extra-ordinary institution-builder. He made an even more vibrant place, and he built on the traditions of Paul Gray and Jerry Weisner and others. The percentage of women students and scholars increased dramatically during Chuck's Presidency.
Chuck had a great sense of humor and a perfect sense of presence and timing. I am personally grateful for all that he did. MIT is a better place. The world is a better place. He championed the cause of MIT, higher education, innovation and technology all through his life, including his service at National Academy of Engineering.
Thank you, Chuck. We honor you, we respect you, and we send your our love and prayerful greetings to your family,
Dear Vest family,
I only met Chuck Vest in fleeting "meet and greets" for alumni at reunions, so I can't say that I know him. Even so, I feel the loss of a great leader, not just at the helm of MIT but also in the culture of the country.
In 1997, I was a disaffected alumna, the product of an MIT, that I felt, couldn't have cared less about me. Then came the horrible, senseless death of Scott Krueger. At the time, my sons were approaching college age. I wrote a letter to President Vest and lashed out at him for allowing the binging culture to infect MIT. To my surprise, he wrote back. It wasn't just a canned response, but a real consideration of the points that I had made. No more sweeping under the rug. No more rationalization. By his example, he changed the national conversation about binge drinking. His simple act of considering my emotional tirade was transformative. He made me want to get involved, not just in MIT but also in my community. He turned my cynicism and apathy into action.
He should be THE case study for leadership.
Under Chuck Vest, MIT's reputation morphed from a dreary trade school, populated by drones, to the epicenter of leading edge creativity. He made being a nerd cool. He brought STEM to the forefront of national priorities. His impact was felt far beyond MIT to the farthest corners of the world. There would be no MOOC without his vision for OCW.
His was a life well lived. Thank you, Chuck!
Condolences to the family of Chuck Vest, an outstanding leader for MIT and a great human being and friend.
I met Chuck in the fall of 1991 when he came to dinner at Random Hall during my senior year. I was amazed that afterward he remembered my name and always said "Hi Adam" as we saw each other in the hallways, which happened often that year and continued through grad school and several years on the MIT Faculty. The following Spring at the President's House reception for seniors, Chuck asked us all to introduce ourselves by name, course (major) and future plans. When it was my turn, I said "I'm Adam, and I'm 6-4 but that's not my major." At the end, Chuck said, "Adam stole my joke -- I'm 6-1, 180 lbs" (or whatever it was). I'll always remember the special permission he granted to the youngest members of each commencement audience to comment on the proceedings as they saw fit.
I could go on and on about Chuck's professional contributions to MIT and the region. His prescient emphasis on biotech helped to create the regional center of excellence. He encouraged and then welcoming the results of the report on women faculty in the School of Science and its follow-ons in the other schools. He was very interested in promoting the success of minority students and formed a task force which I served at his invitation. Chuck was a great technology leader, but for a university whose real product is developing its people, his personal qualities were even more important to his work as President, and his role as a friend.
Many years ago, I was walking down the hallway towards Building 10 while President Vest walked in the opposite direction. He smiled, called me by name and stopped to inquire as to how I was doing. This might seem like a small event, but considering I had not actually met him until a few weeks before, I was amazed that he had clearly taken the time to remember my name. To my mind, this little event was the sign of a great man. Important enough to bear the charter of the University, but not too self-important to fail to respect and care for those beneath him. He underscored something important for me that day and taught me a valuable lesson in the process. I will never forget him. My heartfelt condolences to Dr. Vest's family.
To the Vest Family
Our hearts go out to you all at this time of loss. As a faculty member during his tenure as president of MIT, I had the honor of working with Chuck in the establishment of international initiatives in the area of Environment and Sustainability. What a leader and what a good friend he was. I will never forget a taxi ride back to the Tokyo hotel in 1996 after his efforts had lead to the initiation of The Alliance for Global Sustainability, a strategic research partnership of MIT, the University of Tokyo and The Federal Institutes of Technology(ETH) of Zurich, Switzerland. I told him I did not believe he could have pulled this off with so much at stake and such differing cultures and objectives. Characteristically he just smiled and said that it was such a good idea, how could anyone not be pleased to be part of it. I must admit that until that day, I did not believe it could happen and here he was downplaying what a major accomplishment he had worked to insure. This remark was so evident of his humanity and great ability to lead with grace and ideas. His calm and insightful leadership, his gentle good humor and ability to gain cooperation across different cultures and objectives and most of all his great intellect helped to form the basis for international cooperation all over the world. These efforts contributed greatly to the joint development of new technologies and identification of policy directions that encouraged economic development while preserving and enhancing the environment. It helped to bring together different parts of MIT to interact jointly on important societal problems across disciplinary boundaries. This work led to many of the foundations now securing the MIT Energy Initiative and to the evolving MIT Environmental Initiative. It also served as the platform for the Martin Family Graduate Fellowship Program in Sustainability, which has provided fellowships for over 300 MIT graduate students from across MIT with interests in research that impact upon Energy and Sustainability. Well done, Chuck. You are sorely missed.
Goulder Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems, MIT
Chuck was a true humanist. He saw his role as MIT's president to support, promote, and protect freedom of learning, of questioning, and of critiquing. I had the chance of sitting next to him on a flight to London and we chatted about education in the US post 9/11. Chuck was clear about keeping education open to all who seek it regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity: quite a strong and challenging position in those days of fear, retrenchment, and protectionism. He also felt strongly about making the superb education offered by MIT available to all strata of the society and sought ways to make gratis for those coming from poor backgrounds.
Chuck was also an eloquent representative of MIT. He mingled with the world's leaders and carried MIT's message with grace, resolve, and dignity. I remember him welcoming the Aga Khan to campus in 2003 for the inauguration of ArchNet. He gave one of the most elegant speeches I heard. He knew who to give credit and how to praise those who deserve praise irrespective of their standing.
I am proud to have known him and worked at MIT under his leadership.
In so many ways, Chuck Vest was the inspiration for the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. During his time at MIT and later as President of the NAE, Dr. Vest personified the Capabilities of Effective Engineering Leaders that we currently seek to develop in our program. He certainly recognized the importance of developing engineering leaders, reflecting that our program "is an example of how MIT is working to empower today's engineering undergraduates with critical leadership skills that will help them to become tomorrow's engineering leaders."
Dr. Vest continues to inspire us every day. We are grateful for his visionary leadership, his example, and his continuing influence on our Gordon Engineering Leaders.
A happily ensconced multi-generation Californian, I thought I was a match for whatever temptations the legendary Chuck Vest could proffer as he recruited my husband, John Curry, to leave Caltech for MIT. But, he reached out in subtle ways, with humorous emails that arrived in my inbox late in the day in our Pasadena home. His subtle and infectious humor almost masked his determination to present Boston as the Emerald City of higher education. His focus on my own career and professional interests was impressive and unrelenting. Over a surprisingly short time, my careful tally of "pros and cons" about the move crumbled. We moved--John to MIT and I to Tufts and later, COFHE.
Chuck was a great sounding board. He took seriously the role of friend and advisor, even as he wielded the role of higher education's primary spokesperson in Washington, D.C. on matters ranging from the importance of need-blind admissions and a commitment to need-based aid to the support of science and technology education as a cornerstone of our nation's strength. His time at MIT was transformative. I was fortunate to spend my early years leading COFHE while he led the Institute.
Chuck Vest had the gift that few with his intellectual and leadership skills can claim: he had the warmth of personality to mentor and support others, and truly care about the many whose lives he touched. His influence was simultaneously widespread and infinitely personal. For those many he influenced, the loss is immense but the reminder of what role we each can play in helping those who look to us for advice, counsel and an ethical model to follow is clear.