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Cornell mourns Stephen H. Weiss '57, Board of Trustees chairman emeritus

Stephen Weiss

Stephen H. Weiss '57, a presidential councillor and a board-elected member of the Cornell Board of Trustees for 24 years (1973-97), including eight as chair (1989-97), died on Wednesday, April 16, at age 72. President David Skorton described him as "a consummate Cornellian."

Weiss was the driving force behind the creation of the Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) Board of Overseers in 1980 and served with distinction as its first chair and then a life overseer. His leadership at Cornell, spanning four presidential transitions, was characterized by his extraordinarily high standards and intellect, a devotion to supporting the faculty and excellence in research and teaching, and a generosity of spirit that brought out the best in all who had the pleasure to work with him.

Skorton's tribute continued: "Since coming to Cornell University, I have been graced with the opportunity to get to know Stephen H. Weiss and to benefit from his mentorship. Steve was a most engaging person who had a knack for seeing the opportunity in every situation. A consummate Cornellian, Steve leaves a long and broad trail that reveals his deep attachment to all things Cornell, encompassing the deanship of the Weill Cornell Medical College, professorships in the College of Arts and Sciences, presidential fellowships, athletics programs and much more. We all admired his ceaseless drive to make Cornell a better place, his vivacious spirit as well as his generosity that allows so many of us to strive to be our best. We will miss him deeply, and our thoughts are with his family."

Added Cornell Provost Biddy Martin, "Steve was enormously smart and charming, and all Cornellians benefited from his spirit. He was a really good man, and I will miss him."

Peter Meinig, chairman of the board of trustees, observed that "Cornell has lost a great leader, who served Cornell unselfishly and gave to us in so many ways." He said: "There is no Cornellian who loved this university more than Steve. He was a role model, a trusted adviser and a wonderful friend to me. We reach out with love to Suzanne and the family."

Weiss was one of Cornell's most generous benefactors. On the Ithaca campus, his generosity has resulted in the Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowships; the Richard Savitt and Stephen Weiss Head Coach of Men's Tennis; the Walter and Sandra LaFeber Fund for Research in History and Government; the M.H. Abrams Distinguished Visiting Professorship in English (in 2006 he also endowed a senior fellowship at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina in the name of Abrams); and the Stephen H. Weiss President's Discretionary Fund. At WCMC, his many gifts include the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Deanship; two Suzanne and Stephen H. Weiss Professorships in Cardiothoracic Surgery; and the Frank H.T. Rhodes Distinguished Professorship in Cardiovascular Biology and Genetics. He also provided critical research funding for faculty members throughout the college.

Antonio M. Gotto Jr., who holds the Weiss deanship and is also provost for medical affairs at WCMC, described Weiss as "a great supporter of medical education and clinical care for many years." He said, "His generosity with his time, energy, resources and good counsel speak to the dedication he had for this institution. Weill Cornell Medical College will always be indebted to him."

Sanford Weill, chairman of the WCMC Board of Overseers, called Weiss "a good friend who embodied the meaning of the word excellence." He continued: "His legacy as a guiding force at Weill Cornell Medical College is evidenced in the faces of the young men and women who graduate each year. As the first chairman of the Board of Overseers, Steve set high standards for all of us. He was a very caring person."

Frank H.T. Rhodes, Cornell's president from 1977 to 1995, provided this tribute to his close friend: "Steve is the man I could always count on in meetings to have done his homework by researching and understanding the issues and then getting things done -- and getting them done well. Steve set the leadership standard high, and everyone considered it an honor to work alongside him. As an alumnus and parent of a recent Cornell graduate, Steve lived and breathed Cornell. He made the university a better place for us all and for generations to come. As chair of the board, Steve was my boss. He was also one of my closest friends. We celebrated birthdays and holidays together. We talked often. He had an extraordinary gift for friendship. His life was a triumph of devoted service. His death is an aching loss. Our hearts go out to Suzanne and the children, and to his brother Roger and all the members of his family."

Hunter Rawlings, Cornell's 10th president, said, "Steve Weiss was the most generous of men. He loved his family and his friends, and he loved Cornell, with a passion uniquely his own. We will miss him tremendously, but we will always remember his generous and loving spirit. All of us benefited from his example and from his complete dedication to Cornell."

Weiss entered the investment management business in 1959, shortly after graduating from Cornell. He spent 11 years with A. G. Becker and Co., the last three as director. In 1970, he co-founded the investment management firm Weiss, Peck & Greer and served as its chief executive officer and chairman of its executive committee until 2001. At the time of his death, he was a managing director and senior portfolio manager of Neuberger Berman LLC.

As chairman of the Board of Trustees, Weiss helped to oversee the Cornell Campaign: Creating the Future from 1990-95. He went on to co-chair the Cornell Major Gifts Committee and co-hosted the annual Lynch-Weiss Weekend visit to Cornell, which has brought hundreds of alumni, parents and friends closer to the university. As a civic leader, Weiss served as a member of the Citizens Budget Commission of New York City, the Citizens Committee for New York City and the National Humanities Center. He was also vice chairman of the Centurion Foundation and served on the board of the Teagle Foundation. In 2000, he was appointed an honorary police commissioner of New York City.

Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, who served as Cornell's vice president for academic programs, planning and budgeting (1995-98), said, "When I agreed to serve as an acting vice president during the last few months of the Frank Rhodes presidency, I had absolutely no intention of remaining in the position for an extended period of time. But when I watched all of Steve's efforts on behalf of Cornell and his love for the institution as he served as chairman of the board, during a time that he faced his own serious health problems, I decided that I owed it to the university to emulate his behavior. So I stayed in the role for three years longer than I had planned. Being named a Stephen Weiss presidential fellow (awarded in 2005 for outstanding teaching) is one of the greatest honors of my career because it tied my name to Steve's. While many generous Cornell donors fund bricks and mortar, Steve funded a program to honor undergraduate teachers, and by doing so stressed to generations of faculty to come the importance that the university places on undergraduate education. Many of the Weiss fellows have also been among Cornell's greatest scholars and researchers, and the program allows us to stress to our younger colleagues that there is no tradeoff between being a great teacher and being a great researcher; we expect both from our faculty."

John Webster, director of development for Cornell Athletics, described Weiss as "a great friend of Cornell Athletics." He said, "He loved the Big Red; he followed our programs closely, and he was thrilled with the success we had last winter. His children are terrific athletes; his son Michael played baseball at Cornell; his daughter Nathalie is an incoming Cornell freshman who will play soccer; and his son Jonny is a great baseball player at Tulane. Steve believed firmly that Cornell University was an institution that strived for excellence in everything it did, and the same was true for athletics. And he did a lot to help it be that way. He was a great advocate, a generous supporter, a great fan and an involved parent of a Cornell athlete."


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