Jack Crowley, MIT’s Vice President for Federal relations, says when Charles Vest took office, he once heard him say of himself: “There’s no reason why this boy from W. Virginia should ever grow up to become president of MIT, unless it’s a call to national service.”

“He was serious,” Crowley says now, “because he absolutely has helped shape government policy and helped change the country.”

During his tenure, Vest became a leading national advocate for science, education, and research. He visited Washington over 100 times, became a regular in Congress, and traveled to Washington 80 more times to serve on various boards. In Washington, he rebuilt public understanding and support of higher education and research. He promoted partnerships with government, industry, and universities. Talking with 250 government officials in more than 450 conversations, Vest educated lawmakers about the importance of a federal investment in university research.

His message was that such an investment produces the next generation of leaders in science, engineering, and management, and that new knowledge, technology, and products are absolutely essential to the future vitality of the economy. Vest often cited compelling examples of how medical and scientific advances were so vital that the life and health of the world could be at stake.

It was a powerful message, Crowley says, but it was also Vest’s winning way that made him effective. “Chuck Vest is easily liked and blessed with humility. He is a patient teacher, listens well, and has a sense of humor. People who know him, trust him.

“Washington is a tough place. There are thousands of messengers all clamoring for the attention of the same people. But Chuck Vest got them to listen.

“Now, when government officials think about universities, they think about Chuck Vest. He has become the person in America to whom the system turns.”