Philip George Charest, a highly decorated Navy Captain, beloved husband and father of six, died Tuesday, Nov. 17 after a long battle with declining health. He was 85. He served in the Korean Conflict and two tours in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star for Combat V. Renowned for his ship-handling skills, he traveled the world with the Navy. Capt. Charest brought the U. S. Naval Academy into the computer age in the early 1970s, later directing the Department of Defense’s Computer Institute.
Capt. Charest was born with his twin sister Phyllis on May 21, 1930 in Worcester, Mass., the only children of George and Bessie May Charest. He grew up in a happy, cerebral household as the son of a chemistry professor and college-graduate mother. His sister Phyllis Kunstling predeceased him.
Capt. Charest earned an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1949 after a stellar freshman year in the Navy ROTC at Holy Cross College of Worcester, Mass. At that time, he achieved the highest-ever scores in math & science on the Academy’s entrance exams -- a fact only revealed to him some 25 years later on his promotion to captain. He graduated from the Academy in 1953 as an All-American water polo player. In addition to the Bronze Star, his military awards included a National Defense Service Medal with one star, Navy Unit Commendation, A Combat Action Ribbon, a Vietnamese Armed Forces Honor Medal First Class, A Vietnam Service Medal, and a Vietnam Campaign Medal with four stars.
He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1953 with a B.S. in Engineering. In 1960, he earned a M.S. in Nuclear Physics (Bio/Radiology) from US Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, CA. In 1969, he earned a doctorate in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania and there began his interest in computer science and its application to Naval Services. In addition, he was awarded a Doctorate of Computer Phenomenology from the United States Naval Academy
He served as an officer on six ships, including the USS Benham, USS Meadowlark, USS Egret, USS Oklahoma City, USS Agile, and his final ship, a destroyer, the USS Huntington. During the 1950s, he arranged for the crew of the USS Meadowlark to take a brief leave for a once–in-a-lifetime audience with Pope Pius XII in Rome. Over the years he recalled the event fondly saying that despite the small number of Roman Catholics on the ship, the entire crew seized the opportunity to meet the pope.
While a midshipman in Annapolis, he met and fell in love with his first wife, Elizabeth Anne Williams Charest, whom he married in 1956. Together they had six children. Their first daughter Laura predeceased them in 1960 at the age of only two and his first wife passed away from cancer in 1986. The following year, he married Kathleen Margaret Moore, his beloved wife of 28 years.
A devoted father, Capt. Charest served as a coach, referee and president for the Naval Academy’s Junior Swim Team while all of his children swam for the team.
Captain Charest’s final military posting was as Director of the Department of Defense Computer Institute. He retired from the Navy in 1978 after 29 years of service and went on to a new career as a computer science professor and computer systems director at multiple universities, including the University of Miami, Fordham University in New York, Villanova University in Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and finally Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where he personally oversaw the massive establishment of a statewide university data networking system.
While retired, Capt. Charest maintained his connection to the Navy as a volunteer “Blue and Gold Officer,” finding and recommending some of the nation’s finest students for appointments to the Naval Academy. One year, he helped a record 12 Texas students successfully earn admission to the Academy. He also served as a volunteer resource officer for widows of retired service members, helping them navigate the confusing system of pension and health benefits.
He believed in rescuing pets before it became popular and found joy in the two dogs that spent his final years with him. Capt. Charest enjoyed woodworking and especially restoring antique furniture. He made cradles for all of his grandchildren, with bedding and quilts sewn by his wife Kathleen.
Capt. Charest is survived by his wife Kathleen of Mechanicsburg, Pa., five children including Steven (and Connie) Charest of New Cumberland, Pa; Anne Gilbertson of Etters, Pa; Barbie Charest of Rogers, Ark.; Margaret (and Brett) Davis of Trappe, Pa.; and Mary (and Robert) Iorio of Beverly Hills, Mich; two stepchildren Kathleen Maile Moore of Boston and Edward III “Terry” (and Jennifer) Moore of Israel; ten grandchildren, five nephews and two nieces. His twin sister Phyllis Kunstling predeceased him.
In Lieu of flowers, please send gifts in honor of the captain to the Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, (PAWoundedWarriors.com) and the Pennsylvania Humane Society (http://www.humanesociety.org/about/state/pennsylvania)