Whoever coined the phrase about nice guys always finishing last didn’t know Ted Stern.

It was by the power of his engaging personality — along with a clear vision and a strong work ethic — that the New York native earned a distinguished place in Charleston’s history.

And in what could have been a messy process of transforming the College of Charleston from a struggling private college with fewer than 500 students to a 5,000-student state school, he earned the friendship and respect of the community.

During his 10 years at the helm of the College of Charleston, he oversaw the acquisition and restoration of dozens of properties and the construction of some of the college’s key buildings.

It was College of Charleston President Ted Stern’s positive attitude that gave the Spoleto Festival a foothold in Charleston, even when some powerful citizens were warning of dire problems they thought it would bring. By embracing and supporting the festival, he initiated a partnership between the college and the festival that remains strong today. And in so doing, he set the stage for Charleston’s emerging reputation as a center for cultural arts.

Ted Stern, who distinguished himself in the Navy before becoming the 16th president of the College of Charleston, served his country, his state and his community with loyalty, wisdom and humility.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell recalled, “In 2007, upon receiving the Outstanding Individual Award at the National Philanthropy Day ceremony, Ted Stern told the sellout crowd, ‘You feel good when you do good.’

“That being the case, Ted must have been the best feeling man in America” and that might explain “why God gave him 100 healthy years on this earth to inspire and enrich the lives of so many.”

Former College of Charleston President Alex Sanders aptly called Mr. Stern “the real founder of the modern College of Charleston.”

Theodore S. Stern retired from the College of Charleston 34 years ago, but his name is still a household word — and his contributions to Charleston are the unparallelled legacy of a nice man finishing first.