Thomas D. Rust
Class of 1965, BS
Tom Rust, the first person in his family to earn a college degree, smiles as he says choosing Virginia Tech for his studies was easy. “I went to U.Va., for an interview and, being basically a gentleman’s school, they told me I would have to wear a coat and tie to class. I went to Virginia Tech, a military school, and they told me I would have to wear a uniform. Since I did not have a coat and tie, I never regretted the decision,” he laughs.
“I was certainly challenged and had to struggle the whole time,” Rust recalls about his college studies in the early 1960s. “But I definitely wanted to be a civil engineer so I gave it all I could.” It helped that he had practical experience since he spent the first two years after high school working as a drafter with Fairfax County in northern Virginia. And the county hired him each summer of his college career. “They were extremely good to me,” Rust says.
Today, he is chairman of the board of his company, a veteran political figure, and an accomplished engineer with two master’s degrees – giving credence to the idea that hard work does pay off.
His professional career started in 1965 after he received his diploma in civil engineering. He returned to the Department of Public Works in Fairfax until 1969, working as a design engineer, assistant chief engineer, and chief of the design branch.
But he knew he wanted more. Growing up, he appreciated his father’s independence in owning and operating a small painting company. “I saw the benefits and the challenges he faced,” Rust says. “I always knew that I wanted to be in business for myself, and have my name on the door.”
So, in 1969, after being approached by Patton Harris and Ford several times, he decided to join the independent consulting firm founded in 1952. The firm functioned as a professional engineering and land surveying operation with about 25 employees when Rust added his credentials. He was tasked with a number of challenging projects, and obviously impressed the management because after a few years, the principals asked Rust to step in when Ford stepped down from his post.
As he was helping to build the firm, he also enrolled first at George Washington University to earn his master’s in public works engineering in 1978, and then his master’s of planning in urban and environmental planning from U.Va., in 1989.
How could he work in a demanding position, be the mayor of Herndon, and pursue his second graduate degree simultaneously? “My time management is not nearly as good as it should be,” he says modestly. “I am a big believer in lists. I have short-term and long-term lists, and I do work long hours most of the time. The firm has been extremely supportive of me and my outside activities.”
In the almost 40 years that Rust has now worked at the Chantilly-based firm, the name has changed to Patton Harris Rust and Associates, and has evolved into a corporation with about 40 stockholders. The number of employees has jumped to more than 400 in 18 offices throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Some of the accomplishments Rust is especially proud of is his firm’s work on a major expansion to Tyson’s Corner Shopping Center and the development around the $238 million Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, including all of the bridges and roadways leading in to its new location near the Dulles Airport during the first part of this decade. The firm has also designed major utility infrastructure systems in Maryland for a number of municipalities.
In November of 2007, Rust received the Tower of Dulles Award, the highest recognition offered by the Committee for Dulles, in recognition of his efforts to promote transportation improvements and his meritorious service for the betterment of the Dulles economic corridor. “I was humbled by this award given sporadically when someone has contributed to the economic viability of the Dulles Corridor,” Rust says. Past recipients include Senator John Warner and Congressman Frank Wolf.
“Mr. Rust has spent his entire technical career designing or leading design teams that have created the infrastructure for many of the premier developments in northern Virginia. Mr. Rust is considered an expert by many courts in Virginia,” says William McAllister, retired CEO of Colonial Mechanical Corp. of Richmond, Virginia.
Rust has also distinguished himself as a dedicated public servant, beginning as a member of the Herndon Planning Commission and its Town Council in 1971, moving on to its mayor in 1976 for an eight-year term, followed by another 11 years from 1990 until 2001 when he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I first became involved in Herndon’s politics when it was a small community of about 4,000 or 5,000 people. We were experiencing a lot of growth issues, and I was asked to run for office, and I did. I did it out of a sense of community,” he explains. During his tenure in Herndon politics, he pursued and constructed the Herndon Beltway, a way to remove some of the northern Virginia traffic from the small community, now the third largest town in the state with a population of some 22,000.
Rust also cites the creation of the Herndon Municipal Center complex that includes a branch of the Fairfax County library system, a government office building, the Herndon Council/Fairfax District Court meeting facility, and the Town Green for special events and concerts, as one of his biggest achievements. “I was a bricks and mortar type mayor,” he says, adding that he oversaw all of this work without ever raising taxes in Herndon. “The town was growing, and had about a 52 percent commercial, industrial tax base when the norm is about 15 percent. We had a very healthy business environment which substantially contributed to our community’s success.”
As his achievements on both the business and the political front continued, Herndon became part of a redistricting plan in Virginia. As the new geographic regions were identified, it became apparent that there was an opportunity for Rust to move to the Virginia General Assembly. Colleagues motivated Rust to run, saying his background made him “the logical guy for the new office.” Rust also considered his engineering background and felt he “could bring something to the state.” Currently, only two registered professional engineers serve in the Virginia General Assembly: Rust and Joe May, a 1962 electrical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech.
Rust hoped that what he was able to help accomplish for Herndon’s infrastructure might be duplicated at some level for the state. After five years in the General Assembly, Rust points to the Transportation Bill that passed in 2007 as one of his most important successes.
“I was elected to help give Northern Virginia the tools necessary to solve our vast transportation crisis. I worked with both houses of the General Assembly to provide more than $400 million a year of dedicated funding for Northern Virginia. Every penny stays in Northern Virginia! This comprehensive solution provides unprecedented new funding to fix our area’s most pressing transportation problems. This is a great step forward for our region and a solid foundation on which to continue to improve our transportation infrastructure,” Rust says on his website, www.tomrust.org.
“I recognize that the transportation bill is not the total solution, but in the realm of politics, it is the art of the possible. I take personal pride in being involved with this bill since its inception,” he adds. The Herndon newspaper, the Times, in an editorial on April 10, 2007, said “Some northern Virginia legislators deserve significant credit for getting this bill passed ... particularly Del. Tom Rust ... who crafted and carried the northern Virginia funding portion of the transportation bill two years in a row. Without their willingness to put their political futures on the line ... it would not have been successful.”
As a result of his efforts, the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance honored Rust with its “Dust, Blood, and Sweat” award in recognition for his untiring efforts to secure the first new transportation funding for this region in 20 years.
Rust has also worked with both parties to help ensure the legislature continues to make needed investments in education. He has worked successfully to increase teacher’s pay, fund colleges and universities, increase student financial aid and make the community college system more attractive to those who wish to start their collegiate career there and finish at a four-year institution.
To ensure the 2004 budget bill with the education component, he and 16 of his Republican colleagues broke rank and aligned themselves with the bi-partisan bill in order to make sure “Virginia’s education systems remains among the nation’s best,” he says.
Rust serves on the education, transportation, and science and technology committees of the Virginia House of Delegates, and has played a critical role in helping with the creation of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech.
Prior to his election to the Virginia General Assembly, Rust was slated to become the Rector of the Board of Visitors at Virginia Tech, but he had to cut short his four-year term, ending as vice-rector in 2001, after his successful legislative campaign. He is a member of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Committee of 100. He also served on Longwood College’s Board of Visitors from 1980 until 1988, with the last seven years as its rector. He has served on numerous banking boards.
“Civil engineers do things daily that impact the quality of life, and that may give us a little different view. We are often in the forefront, giving presentations to different elected bodies and that can put us out in front in the political environment,” Rust comments regarding the proclivity of CEs to become active in communities.
As for the future, Rust says he hopes he can “slow down some” and enjoy his General Assembly work, and maybe have the ability to give more time back to Virginia Tech.
Rust and his wife Ann continue to reside in Herndon.
Class of: 1965
Year Inducted into Academy: 2008