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Ex-MIT president, WVU board member Vest dies

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest, a Morgantown native and West Virginia University Board of Governors member, died Thursday night at age 72.

Vest died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Washington, according to MIT officials.

He served as MIT's president from 1990 to 2004, where he led groundbreaking online-education efforts and was praised for his push for education equality and his support of women and minorities in science.

Vest also served on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology and was the president of the National Academy of Engineering until earlier this year.

Vest was born in Morgantown and received a degree in mechanical engineering from WVU in 1963. His term on the WVU board was set to end in 2016.

Outgoing WVU President Jim Clements called Vest "one of the greatest men I have ever known" on Friday.

"He was also one of the giants in higher education, and I am so blessed to have been mentored by him through the WVU Board of Governors," Clements said in a statement. "His loss is one that touches so many around the world because his impact was literally that far-reaching. In every conversation and in every meeting over the past five years, I always knew how incredibly fortunate I was that our paths crossed here at his alma mater."

WVU's incoming interim president, E. Gordon Gee said, "Higher education has lost one of its greatest friends and advocates in Charles Vest."

Vest earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and got his start in academic administration when he became the dean of that university's engineering school.

His expertise spanned everything from brain and cognitive sciences to nanotechnology and space.

At the request of President Bill Clinton, Vest chaired the Committee on the Redesign of the International Space Station. In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed Vest to the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

"It is rare in our lives that we meet someone as talented, kind and passionate about their life's work as Chuck Vest," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement. "With his unmatched intellect, gentle soul and spine of steel, Chuck was able to transform our world for the better through his incredible contributions to technology and education . . .  .

"Chuck was a dear friend to me and I relied on him often. I trusted Chuck's wisdom and advice immensely, and I will miss those conversations," Rockefeller said.

In 2011, Vest was the commencement speaker at the University of Charleston. He urged graduates to make the world a better place, saying, "You never know how or when opportunity will arise."

"I am deeply saddened by this news. Chuck had such a gentle nature; he was a true gentlemen," James Dailey, chairman of the WVU Board of Governors said. "He gave the board concise guidance and direction and was revered for his intellect. Each and every board member respected him. His quiet demeanor was one to emulate."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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