|Former President Vagt Will Head The Heinz Endowments
November 19, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Former Davidson College President Robert F. Vagt has accepted the presidency of The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, Pa., and will begin work there in mid-January.
Robert F. Vagt was Davidson College president from 1997 to 2007.
The ironic aspect of the decision was apparent to Vagt. His successor at Davidson, President Thomas W. Ross, left the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to accept the Davidson presidency. Now Vagt is becoming leader of a philanthropic organization after serving as Davidson president for a decade. “I guess I’m just a Tom Ross wanna-be!” joked Vagt.
On a more serious note, Vagt said his experience as Davidson College’s top fundraiser will serve him well in leading The Heinz Foundation’s distribution of about $80 million per year. “Having been on the other side of the process, asking for help, I hope I’ll be more thoughtful, serious, and understanding in interacting with the people and organizations that seek our help,” Vagt said.
Vagt spent an energetic decade at Davidson from 1997-2007. He led a campaign that raised $272 million, and saw the endowment grow from $178 million to $460 million. Through his leadership a dozen major buildings were renovated and athletic facilities were improved. He attracted an ongoing residency of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and worked with trustees to implement a policy that replaces loans in financial aid packages with grants, assuring that all students graduate debt-free. Davidson was the first liberal arts college in the nation to implement such a policy.
The Heinz Endowments began in 1941 as the Howard Heinz Endowment, and is among the largest independent philanthropic organizations in the country with a current endowment of $1.7 billion. It supports community service initiatives in southwestern Pennsylvania in the fields of economic development, ecological preservation, education, and cultural life. Vagt will supervise the endowment’s 27 member staff, and report to the Board of Directors, which is chaired by Teresa Heinz, spouse of U.S. Senator John Kerry.
In announcing the appointment Heinz referred to Vagt as “the ultimate teacher and doer.” She said, “While he brings a great deal of knowledge, passion and courage to his role as the new president of the Endowments, I believe we have a lot to learn and explore together.”
Vagt is the third Endowments head since Teresa Heinz assumed board chairmanships of the family philanthropies after the death of Sen. John Heinz in 1991. He succeeds Maxwell King, who will leave in February after an eight-year term.
The Heinz Endowments have recently completed an assessment that creates three new strategic alliances linking aspects of its core program areas of: arts and culture; children, youth, and families; education; environment; and innovation economy.
The “Pathways to Educational Excellence” alliance will support the reform plan for the Pittsburgh Public Schools through complimentary learning and family assistance programs. “Downtown Now” will seek to influence the $1.5 billion in public-private development in the central core, and look for other initiatives to ensure that downtown Pittsburgh remains a center for culture and commerce in the region. "Sustainable Innovation" will promote environmentally sustainable development in the region.
Vagt, a 1969 Davidson graduate, had no previous connection with The Heinz Endowments, and only a passing familiarity with Pittsburgh through business trips and Davidson alumni meetings there. He said he was attracted to the position at Heinz by the significance of its impact in that region of Pennsylvania. “The regional focus allows them to treat important issues thoroughly. Their aid to education includes not only classroom innovations, but preschool health care, child nutrition, and parental engagement. Their approach has both breadth and depth, and that’s exciting to me.”
He also believes that his experience at Davidson will serve him well at The Heinz Endowments. “To the extent I’m effective, I’ll owe credit to the priorities I came to appreciate, and the process of working on them with the people of Davidson College,” he said.
Since leaving the college at the end of July, he and his wife, Ruth Anne, have been living in Castine, Maine. He’s been busy reading, chopping wood, and serving as chair of the board of the Children’s Defense Fund. He has also recently been elected to the board of the Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond.
However, Vagt admitted it’s been hard to break his “Davidson addiction.” “It’s been an interesting process to try to pull back from things that fueled me for years. I’ve been following our sports teams, and love still getting e-mails from students. Though it’s not my business any longer, Davidson’s still with me every day.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz