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Helen 'Happy' Reichert, CU's oldest alumna, dies at age 109

Memorial celebration

Family and friends of Helen Faith "Happy" Keane Reichert will celebrate her life Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. at Weill Cornell Medical College, 1300 York Ave. (at East 69th Street) In New York City. RSVP: Terri Cook,

On Sept. 25, 109-year-old Helen Faith "Happy" Keane Reichert '25 -- Cornell's oldest living graduate -- died at her apartment in New York City. She would have turned 110 Nov. 11.

Reichert passed away "as she had wanted to, comfortably in her chair with a smile," said Olive Villaluna, Reichert's caregiver and close friend.

The arc of her lifetime, which spans two-thirds of Cornell's history, included being a member of the first Girl Scout troop to sell World War I bonds outside the New York Public Library, witnessing the ticker-tape parade for Charles Lindbergh after he made the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927 and glimpsing Salvador Dali strolling along Fifth Avenue.

After graduating from Cornell, Reichert married Philip Reichert, M.D. '23, a cardiologist who later co-founded the American College of Cardiology. Dr. Reichert, who died in 1985, donated his collection of historic diagnostic instruments to Weill Cornell Medical College, where they are now on permanent display.

Reichert earned an MAT from Columbia University Teacher's College in 1931 and began her career as a copywriter and educator. In 1949, she founded the Round Table of Fashion Executives as a means to give women a greater voice within the fashion industry and, in 1951, hosted a television talk show, "FYI: The Helen Faith Keane Show," on WNEW (now WNYW) in New York City, winning the McCall's Magazine Golden Microphone Award for outstanding broadcasting service to women. She joined the Graduate School of Retailing at New York University in 1947 and taught there for the next 30 years.

"I met her by chance a few years ago ... at a celebration of the opening of a new headquarters building in Washington, D.C., for the American College of Cardiology," Cornell President David Skorton recalled. "She was in the audience and, when I was introduced as Cornell president, she asked to speak with me and said, 'You're the newest one at Cornell, and I'm the oldest one, so you better listen to me!' Later, we marched together in the Sy Katz parade, and I became her fan."

Reichert was a regular presence at Cornell's biennial Sy Katz '31 Parade in Manhattan.

"Leading the '31 parade, she looked and acted like she was in her 20s, and that is how I will remember her," said William Vanneman II '65, whose father, William Vanneman '31 had been one of the oldest living Cornell alumni until he passed away last April at 101. "She was a remarkable woman, from a generation of heroes and heroines who will be remembered forever because of their stout constitution, warming smile and leadership by example. They are, and will continue to be, a very tough act to follow."

Reichert supported the Helen F. Reichert Scholarship at Weill Cornell, and in 2004, amended her will for a $100,000 gift to the Residential Initiative in support of Cornell's West Campus House System. The Reichert Suite in Carl Becker House is named in her honor.

"She lived a full life. She never stopped being involved and seeking to learn new things," said Alice Katz Berglas '66, a friend of Reichert's for the past 10 years.

Reichert is survived by two brothers (ages 105 and 101), a sister-in-law, and many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, she can be honored through donations to Weill Cornell Medical College.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz