Joe Gavin was seven in 1927 when his grandmother took him to Springfield, Vermont to see Charles Lindbergh, touring the country after his famous solo flight from New York to Paris. “There were crowds of people waiting, and finally this little airplane came bouncing onto the hay field,” he says. “We got very close to Lindbergh and to his plane, and I found it fascinating.”
This led Gavin to MIT, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s in aeronautics in 1941. He then served in the U.S. Navy in the Bureau of Aeronautics and joined Grumman Corporation in 1946. There he progressed from design engineer to project engineer and eventually to president of the aerospace subsidiary, then president, COO, and director of Grumman.
For ten years, he was vice president and director of the Apollo Lunar Module Program. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong commanded Apollo 11 for the first lunar landing, it was Joe Gavin who spoke for the Grumman team, 15,000 people across the country, confirming, “We are ready to launch.”
Twenty years ago, Gavin became an MIT Corporation member and grew aware of the work of MIT’s Center for Cancer Research. A good friend, Pearl Staller, who had recovered from cancer, contributed to the Center and challenged Gavin to do likewise.
Now, over the years, Gavin has given $250,000 to the Pearl Staller Graduate Student Fund in the Center. “I had a strong conviction that the group at the Center was working in a direction that made sense,” Gavin says, adding that a recent national conference sponsored by the Center revealed that there have been some recent successes in fighting cancer and there is promise of more. “The people at the Center for Cancer Research are producing results that make them winners for us all.”