Labor champion, environmentalist Theodore Kheel dies

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Joe Schwartz

Theodore W. Kheel '35, LLB '37, a distinguished lawyer, arbitrator, property developer, entrepreneur and labor mediator who helped end major national and New York City union disputes, has died at age 96. The New York Times reported that Kheel was "the go-to guy for mayors, labor leaders and business executives during the post-World War II era, when unions were far more powerful than they are now and a savvy, respected ringmaster was often needed to pressure and cajole all sides to reach a settlement."

At Cornell, the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, housed in the ILR School's Catherwood Library, was renamed in honor of Kheel and his wife, Ann Sunstein Kheel '36, who died in 2003. Its purpose is to preserve source materials relevant to the history of American labor unions, management theory as it applies to labor and industrial relations and the history of employees at the workplace.

Kheel was the lead investor in the Dominican Republic resort of Punta Cana, where he partnered with Cornell to establish the Punta Cana Center of Sustainability and Biodiversity, a research and education site focused on the Caribbean.

Kheel was president of the National Urban League 1956-60 and participated in the Gandhi Foundation, which helped support Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He also founded the Nurture Nature Foundation. A man of many interests, he represented such artists as Robert Rauschenberg and Christo.

A private funeral was held over the weekend, and a memorial is being planned.

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