Terri Natoli wins Cornell's highest award for service

Terri Natoli, as administrative assistant to Kraig Adler, chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, was not surprised when the department came together Jan. 12 in Mudd Hall to recognize the success of a professor’s new book. The surprise came midway through Adler’s opening remarks, when the tribute turned to her.

“You have won Cornell’s highest service award,” Adler announced, “the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service.”

Saying that “this afternoon we are going to make a huge, huge fuss,” Adler called Natoli forward to join him, and then surprised her again as he invited Natoli’s family to enter the room, and introduced her husband, son, daughter and brother to the many faculty, staff and graduate students in attendance.

Adler said that in Natoli’s first week on the job, she was asked to fill in temporarily as department secretary; he heard one of the professors walking down the hall and could tell by the footsteps and tone that the professor was not in a good mood. But the professor spoke for a few minutes to Natoli, and by the time he entered Adler’s office, was totally calm.

“To this day, I have no idea what you said,” Adler said, adding that Natoli’s ability to deal with people at all levels of the organization, her common sense and her professionalism have made her “a fabulous ambassador for Cornell.” Natoli is known as the “go-to” person in the department, he said.

Others paying tribute to Natoli echoed Adler’s remarks. Vice President for Human Resources Mary George Opperman said that those who nominated Natoli for the award called her a “mentor,” “troubleshooter” and a “problem-solver who will take on the responsibility of any challenge and follow through until it is resolved.”

“You embody what it means to have a positive attitude,” she said, presenting Natoli with an autographed copy of Carol Kammen’s “Glorious to View,” on behalf of Cornell’s human resources community.

Tanya Grove, chair of the Employee Assembly, said that the George Peter Award for Dedicated Service is given to Cornell staff members who “consistently demonstrate a high degree of excellence in the performance of their duties and who prove their willingness to extend themselves to help others and go above and beyond the normal expectations of their job responsibilities.”

Named in honor of the late George Peter – Cornell’s “tireless staff advocate and first employee-elected trustee” – this award is the “longest running and most prestigious university-wide peer-nominated award,” Grove said, noting that Natoli is its 174th recipient. Grove presented Natoli with gift certificates for Banfi’s Restaurant, the Cornell Store, the Cornell Recreation Connection, Photography by Marian Hartill and a cruise on Cayuga Lake from Don Hartill.

Adler also recognized Pamela Stacey Coil, department administrator and Natoli’s colleague, who nominated her for the award. Natoli closed the event by extending her thanks to Adler and Bertha Peterson, now retired but who hired Natoli in 1978, “for taking a chance on me, and to all of you for making me a part of the NBB family ... you have been amazing.”

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Joe Schwartz