Remembering Chuck Vest

Photo: U.S. Dept. of State

One morning in January, 1995, Chuck Vest and I visited the leaders of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami to thank them for their $5 million challenge gift for the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, which the Institute splendidly matched with an additional $2.5 million in five annual installments. We breakfasted jovially, and Chuck presented Lee Hills, chairman, and Creed Black, president, a book of testimonials from MIT Knight Fellows, along with a Steuben crystal beaver with garnet eyes. I explained that the beaver symbolized the smart, ornery spirit of MIT students, and Chuck smiled and added another word: “nocturnal.”

It was a fine moment in Chuck’s firm and consistent backing of an unusual initiative in bolstering the knowledge and confidence of journalists who are dedicated to talking straight to the public about science and technology. He often saw the Knight Fellows three times a year, at a welcoming party, during a frank seminar about MIT’s challenges, and in the Fellows’ “graduation” in his office, a warm custom that began with Paul Gray, who flashed the green light for the program to start.

Chuck Vest’s death is a poignant moment for all the 300 Knight Fellows who have spent an academic year at MIT, and the 300 more who have joined us for our short-course “Boot Camps” on hot topics. He brought wry good humor and a firm moral sense to all his tasks. We will miss him.