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CALS, Weill Cornell Medicine hold events to honor Garrett

Cornellians wrote down their memories of President Elizabeth Garrett March 17 at Stocking Hall.

Inspiring. A leader. Empowering. Fiercely intelligent. Her smile.

Those were among the words written by members of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) community about President Elizabeth Garrett, who died March 6 from colon cancer.

In the early afternoon of March 17, CALS faculty, staff and students gathered in Stocking Hall to share memories of the late president along with scoops of her signature ice cream, “24 Garrett Swirl.” Remembrances written in honor of Garrett will be displayed on a tree in the main atrium of Albert Mann Library throughout the spring semester.

For graduate student Rachel Lemcke, the connection was personal.

The president’s intelligence, charisma and eloquence all reminded Lemcke of her late godmother, who passed away from ovarian cancer in 2013. In their final visit together, she shared the news that she’d be studying animal science at Cornell: “She was so proud,” Lemcke recalled through tears.

The best attributes of her godmother she also found in Garrett.

“They were very tenacious, well-spoken, intelligent women,” Lemcke said. Both exhibited a strength and depth of character she said she found inspiring. “I considered [Garrett] to be a very strong, positive female role-model,” she said.

Garrett broke a barrier when she became Cornell’s first female president. But her legacy extends far beyond that.

Trustee Craig Yunker ’73, M.S. ’75, recalled Garrett’s commitment to the ideals that set Cornell apart. He was struck by her energy, personal engagement and unwavering support of Cornell’s land-grant mission.

Students in Weill Cornell Medicine's Music and Medicine program perform in honor of President Elizabeth Garrett March 17.

“She made an impact in a short amount of time,” Yunker said. “She will be remembered as very effective.”

The Cornell community is invited to leave reflections and tributes to be added to the remembrance tree in Mann Library that, like Garrett’s legacy, is sure to grow fuller with time.

Cornellians in New York City gathered at Weill Cornell Medicine to commemorate Garrett’s life prior to the memorial event in Bailey Hall, which was live-streamed.

Students, physicians, instructors and scientists, as well as Weill Cornell Medicine physicians who cared for Garrett in her final days, were among the nearly 200 who attended the ceremony at a solemn Uris Auditorium.

“Not only was she one of the great leaders in Cornell history,” said Jessica Bibliowicz ’81, chairman of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers, “but I’m quite confident that if she had more time she would have been one of the great leaders in university history.”

Bibliowicz noted that despite Garrett’s short tenure, she made tremendous strides to bridge the Ithaca and New York campuses, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech. And she made a lasting impact on students, who had signed a get-well card for her, and on Bibliowicz, who recalled their many conversations about everything from university initiatives to social culture.

“At the end of the day, that’s why I say Cornell University lost its 13th president, but like so many of you in this room I lost a friend,” Bibliowicz said.

Student overseer on the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers Raul McFaline-Martinez said Garrett always looked “visibly excited” to be leading the university.

“Personally, I’ve never met an institutional leader who was so genuinely interested in the realities of student life,” he said. “I don’t know how she made the time to be available to listen to all of our issues.”

Matt Hayes is managing editor and social media manager for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Timothy Malcolm is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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Melissa Osgood