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Walter Lynn, former dean, ombudsman, dies at 82

Memorial Service
A public memorial service for Walter Lynn will be held Saturday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall. A reception will immediately follow in the Memorial Room. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Lynn's honor to Cornell University, Box 223623, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-2623.

Walter R. Lynn, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering and of science and technology studies, died June 6 of cancer. He was 82.

Lynn, who joined the Cornell faculty in 1961 and became emeritus in 1998, served in a number of key administrative roles, including most recently as university ombudsman for 12 years, and previously, as a faculty trustee and dean of the university faculty.

In a June 7 campuswide statement, Cornell President David Skorton called Lynn "one of the most beloved members of the Cornell family."

He noted: "Those who met Walter during his 49 years at Cornell will remember a man of great humor with the exceptional ability to listen and dispense sound wisdom."

Independent of the university's administrative structure, the Cornell University Ombudsman office is a confidential service available to all members of the Cornell community to help resolve conflicts or disputes and achieve fair and equitable settlements. During his tenure Lynn advised many students, faculty, staff and potential students and employees on issues ranging from student grades to employee dismissals.

It was in this role where Lynn's skills "truly shined," Skorton said.

Walter Lynn
Professor Emeritus Walter Lynn

"On the list of desirable attributes of a Cornell University Ombudsman, the last read, 'Non-judgmental, good listener, fair, diplomatic, calm, sensible.' That was Walter," Skorton said.

Valdimir (as misspelled on his birth certificate) Royal Lynn was born Oct. 1, 1928. He received his B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Miami in 1950, master's degree in sanitary engineering from the University of North Carolina in 1954 and Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1963.

He came to Cornell as an associate professor of sanitary engineering in 1961. Early on, he held a joint appointment at what is now called Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, where he taught courses on systems methods to physicians. He also worked on modeling epidemiology to understand the interface between human biological and civil-engineered systems.

In 1972, as founder and head of the Cornell University Center for Environmental Quality Management (1966-76), he coined the term "sustainability" in assembling a multidisciplinary research team of engineers, chemists, biologists, economists, lawyers and mathematicians. This was an attempt to define and organize society's environmental problems in meaningful ways that recognize human aspirations and proclivities.

Lynn was a pioneer in the application of modern concepts of engineering and optimization to problems of water resources management, risk management and sanitation. In 1961 he brought systems techniques, aided by emerging computer capabilities, to Cornell for the framing and analysis of solutions for many civil engineering problems, particularly those dealing with water supply, water treatment and broader environmental and public health concerns.

From 1988 to1993, Lynn served as dean of the university faculty. During that time he focused on several issues facing the faculty, including the quality of undergraduate education and the status of federal support for research. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellowship program, which recognizes outstanding undergraduate teaching.

As a faculty member of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Lynn directed the Program on Science, Technology and Society for eight years and served as director of Cornell's Center for Environmental Research, as well as director of the school. He also served as faculty trustee from 1980 to 1985 and as a member of the board of directors of the Cornell Research Foundation.

Over the years Lynn served on numerous National Academy panels and working groups, including one to study the regionalization of the Washington, D.C., water supply system, now successfully implemented.

Lynn also was active civically. He served as mayor of the Village of Cayuga Heights from 2002 to 2008 and as chair of the City of Ithaca's Urban Renewal Agency, which led to the development of The Ithaca Commons. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Sciencenter (1982-85) and Planned Parenthood (1991-95).

Lynn also led such organizations as the Southern Cayuga Intermunicipal Water Commission and the New York State Water Resources Planning Council, to which he was appointed chair in 1985 following a series of droughts 1964-66 and again in 1984. As water "czar," he had the absolute authority to declare a drought emergency in New York City.

His many honors include: fellow and life member of the American Society of Civil Engineers; fellow of the American Society for the Advancement of Science; and national associate of the National Research Council of the National Academies.

Lynn is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their son, Michael, as well as many family members and friends. Plans to commemorate his life will be made in the coming days in consultation with his family.