One of the highlights of Charles Colgan’s 40-year career in Virginia politics was helping establish a western campus for George Mason University in Prince William County.
“My role has always been to get the money to expand the university,” Colgan said in a 2015 interview for the Mason Oral History Founders Series, and that he did. According to state senate finance figures, Colgan was responsible for sponsoring a total of $1.2 billion for higher education in Virginia, $600 million of it for Mason.
Developing the western campus, briefly known as the Prince William Institute, meant fending off larger and better-established universities lobbying Richmond for the resources. Several times things stalled in the statehouse, but once IBM donated the initial 125 acres for the site, “it all came together some way,” Colgan said. "The trick then was to get the first building started. I knew it would help the economic development of the area.”
Without Colgan’s considerable involvement, Mason’s Science and Technology Campus in the senator’s home district in Prince William County might not have overcome the hurdles—financial and political—that it encountered.
“Without Chuck Colgan, there might not be a campus, it’s that simple,” said Jimmy Hazel, previous chair of Mason’s Foundation Board of Trustees, a current member of the Board of Visitors and a 1984 graduate of Mason’s law school.
Quietly using his leverage as chairman of the senate finance committee and vital higher education committees, Colgan, the longest-serving politician in Virginia’s history, created momentum for Mason.
“He got the state [higher education] council to buy in, and the next thing you know, we had a campus getting started,” said Randall Edwards, former executive vice president of Mason.
“Chuck Colgan was able to go to everybody in the senate and say, ‘I need this done,’ and because of how Chuck presents himself and the respect he has of his colleagues, they could never say no,” added Hazel. “He has a very quiet and unassuming manner, but a will of iron and the respect of his colleagues.”
“He worked across party lines. He was the perfect example of what we ought to have representing Virginia and the nation,” said Edwards.
For his part, quiet and unassuming as always, Colgan said helping create Mason’s Prince William Campus “has been a labor of love. I’ve always had a great deal of affection for George Mason.
“I feel very good about what we’ve done and where we’re going.”