To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: September 4, 2019
Re: Mary Webster Retirement
Mary Webster, who has served the Institute with unparalleled distinction for 53 years, will retire in January 2020. Mary defined the positions of secretary of the Board of Trustees and executive assistant in the Office of the President. Although irreplaceable, I have appointed a joint trustee, faculty, and staff search committee to identify a new secretary of the Board. The committee is chaired by Trustee Taylor Lawrence, who is joined by trustee Ken Moore, Ravi Ravichandran (EAS), Jackie Barton (CCE), Dexter Bailey (vice president for advancement and alumni relations), Jennifer Lum (general counsel), and Diana Jergovic (vice president for strategy implementation, and committee co-chair). Hillary Downs will staff the committee. The committee will solicit broad input from the Caltech community, information that will play a key role in its deliberations and recommendations.
Mary joined the Institute in 1966 as a clerk stenographer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which Caltech manages for NASA. In 1970, Mary accepted an administrative position in the JPL director's office, where over the next 11 years she assumed increasing responsibility for external relations and as liaison to the Pasadena campus. In 1981, Mary transferred from JPL to the Office of the President on campus. In 1984, she was appointed executive assistant to the president and was elected assistant secretary of the board of trustees. Mary was elected secretary of the Board of Trustees in 1987.
Once on campus, Mary worked directly, and without interruption, for six Institute presidents: Murph Goldberger (who hired her), Tom Everhart, David Baltimore, Jean-Lou Chameau, Ed Stolper (interim), and now in my office. Prior to that, Mary worked in President Harold Brown's office on temporary assignments, and worked as a liaison with President DuBridge. Her remarkable tenure only missed intersection with Robert Millikan.
With her impeccable judgment, historical sense, commitment to the values of Caltech, and graceful style, Mary has provided wise counsel to almost every leader of the modern Caltech. Generations of trustees have turned to Mary on questions of governance and Institute tradition.
Mary also maintains and leverages an encyclopedic knowledge of the Institute’s history. She voraciously reads files, conducts research in the Archives, and has read and indexed the official records of the Board of Trustees, starting with 1891 and continuing through today. Mary has channeled her energy, skills, and passion into almost every endeavor that has addressed Caltech’s highest priorities and needs.
We will have an opportunity as a community to celebrate Mary’s contributions to campus and at JPL in January. For the time being, please join me in thanking Mary for all that she has done and continues to do for the Institute.