“It is easy to exhaust superlatives when describing Charlie Luck,” said Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, former VMI superintendent, when asked to reflect upon Charles S. Luck III ’55, who died Dec. 1, 2020, at age 87. “He was a successful leader in business known for his strong entrepreneurial spirit and his willingness to embrace innovation. He had a sincere desire to serve his neighbors and devoted himself to the support of many charities and community organizations. Moreover, he was a stalwart friend to me. Of course, I first came to know him as a grateful alumnus who served tirelessly on the boards of all the VMI Alumni Agencies and the Board of Visitors and as a leader in support of the Institute who for several decades gave selflessly of his time and talent to encourage others to help strengthen VMI and always led by outstanding example.”
Luck, the son of Charles S. Luck Jr., Class of 1920, was indeed all those things—and much more. According to his son, Charles S. Luck IV ’83, Luck promoted the Institute even before he matriculated. “In a letter, he told a friend that he was making a big mistake by going to the University of Virginia instead of VMI.” He also was unlike many alumni, whose affection for VMI increases the longer they have been out of barracks. “Even as a cadet, he loved it. He appreciated the structure as well as the friendships and camaraderie.” Although the highest rank he held in the Corps was corporal, he took a leading role in many activities, including the staff of the Bomb and the Hop Committee. He also played golf three of his four years as a cadet.
After service in the Air Force, Luck began to work at his family’s stone products company, Luck Stone, in Goochland County. It would be more accurate to say he returned to work in the family business, as he had worked summers for it since he was 12. Among his first tasks was deliver ice and water to workmen in a quarry, which involved him being lowered to the quarry floor in a basket.
In 1965, he became the company’s president. Under his leadership, the company was marked by, according to a family remembrance, “expansion and technological advancement.” The company added plants and quarries in Virginia and North Carolina and opened retail architectural stone centers. It also branched out into real estate and acquired a manufacturer of clay tennis courts. After 30 years at the helm of what had become Luck Companies, Luck ’83 became company’s chief executive officer, and Luck became chairman of the board, a position he held until his death. Luck also was on the boards of many corporations and professional organizations. His decisions to embrace innovations as well as set high standards in the realms of safety and environmental quality earned Luck Companies national recognition and him leadership positions in many trade associations.
Luck was involved in community affairs, especially in the Richmond area. He served on the boards of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Children’s Museum of Richmond as well as those of Mary Baldwin College, the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College Educational Foundation, and St. Christopher’s School. In part, Luck ’83 credits his father’s devotion to service to the example set by his grandfather, who “was devoted to serving the community and very philanthropic. My dad took that example to heart.” Luck’s VMI experience also provided inspiration. “VMI sets a high standard of service for its alumni, and dad always strived to meet it.”
Luck also found board work agreeable. “Dad enjoyed boards and board work,” recalled Luck ’83. “He liked forming coalitions, developing strategies, and discerning what was needed to move an organization to the next level. Also, he enjoyed preparing for meetings, examining documents, and doing the readings.”
Bright threads run through the fabric of every life. For Luck, these were his family and his business—and VMI. “As a cadet, the VMI community became dad’s community, and it stayed that way for the rest of his life,” said Luck ’83. It was, he continued, “intertwined with all aspects of his life.” Luck’s wife of 64 years, True, was the girl he dated while at VMI. Many of the company’s customers were VMI alumni, including many, like Luck, who had been civil engineering majors. Luck ’83 remembers that when the company bought an airplane in 1972, it arrived painted white. “It wasn’t long before it was painted in VMI colors.” The Luck family traveled regularly to VMI for football games, and until it ended in the early 1970s, attending the annual VMI versus VPI Thanksgiving Day game in Roanoke was a family tradition.
Luck served VMI in many capacities over five decades. He joined the VMI Alumni Association Board of Directors in 1965. Five years later, he became a member of the VMI Board of Visitors, serving until 1978. From 1978-81, he was a member of the VMI Keydet Club Board of Governors. He later was a trustee of the VMI Foundation from 1987-95, during which time he became the organization’s vice president for administration. The span of Luck’s service meant that he was involved in VMI’s first two major fundraising campaigns: The Campaign for VMI and what was known as the Sesquicentennial Campaign. In the late 1990s, he joined the leadership team of VMI’s third campaign, Reveille: A Call to Excel, an effort that by its conclusion in 2004 had raised $207.4 million for the Institute.
One project launched under Reveille’s auspices—the Jackson-Hope Fund for Academic Excellence—capped Luck’s service to VMI. Named after the Jackson-Hope Medal, the annual cadet award for the highest academic achievement, the fund supports innovation in VMI’s academic program and aids in the faculty’s development and expansion. Since 2000, donors have entrusted more than $38 million to it, and it has provided more than $21 million in grants.
George G. Phillips Jr. ’60, who was the chairman of Reveille as well as the founding president of the Jackson-Hope Fund, said of Luck, who served on the fund’s board from its inception until 2015, “Charlie Luck made a strongly positive difference in the many VMI organizations and efforts he was associated with throughout his life. I knew him best through Reveille and the Jackson-Hope Fund. In both cases, his advice and opinions were extremely valuable to me, and his devoted stewardship and unwavering generosity were keys to the success of both efforts.”
“VMI gave him so much,” recalled Luck ’83. “It instilled in him the values and standards he took forward in life. It shaped him and formed him into the man he grew into being. He so valued it that there was only one thing he liked better than working at our company: Working for VMI.”
Luck also was a generous donor to VMI. Among the highlights of his philanthropy was the establishment of a scholarship and Institute professorship and the funding of a weight room for the football team in honor of his father, another Institute professorship, and, along with Luck ’83, the Luck Family Fund for Leadership and Ethics.
Through his more than 50 years of generosity and service, Luck played an important role in the advancement of the Institute’s extraordinary education and strengthened the foundations for its future success. His many contributions had a profound effect on the lives of thousands of cadets—and will continue to do so for countless cadets in the future.
In 1997, he received the VMI Foundation Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his long service to VMI.
As well as Luck ’83, Luck is survived by two daughters, Cynthia L. Haw and Terrell L. Harrigan; eight grandchildren, including Richard S. Luck ’12; and two great-grandchildren.
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.