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Walter Relihan, former university counsel, dies at 86

The Hon. Walter J. Relihan Jr. ’52, J.D. ’59, of Ithaca, a former Cornell University Counsel and retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, died Jan. 11. He was 86.

Relihan was an undergraduate government major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and served as an officer in the U.S. Navy before attending Cornell Law School.

Memorial service
A memorial service for the Hon. Walter J. Relihan Jr. will be held in the chapel at Anabel Taylor Hall, Saturday, May 13, at 1 p.m. A reception will follow at Myron Taylor Hall.

Early in his career he practiced law in Binghamton, New York. He served on the city’s Commission on Architecture and Urban Design, participating in a successful effort to preserve Binghamton’s Beaux Arts City Hall.

Appointed chief counsel of the New York State Office of General Services in 1967, he drafted legislation authorizing the construction of the Government Center at Binghamton; and advised on the construction and financing of Empire State Plaza in Albany. In 1971, he was appointed university counsel and vice chancellor for legal affairs of the State University of New York. He also was counsel to the SUNY Research Foundation.

Relihan was elected university counsel by the Cornell Board of Trustees in 1979 and became secretary of the corporation in 1980, serving until his appointment in late 1991 to the Supreme Court of the State of New York as justice for the Sixth Judicial District.

During his Cornell tenure, Relihan “zealously represented the university in protecting its autonomy, financial integrity and well-being,” current University Counsel James Mingle wrote in a letter to Cornell trustees and colleagues. “He also built an experienced team of lawyers and other professionals. My colleagues from the Relihan days in the University Counsel’s Office (four of whom are still serving the university) tell me that he set the highest standards for himself and others, and undertook every endeavor, large or small, with relish, grace, wit and insight.”

At Cornell, Relihan also was director of the Cornell Research Foundation and served on the Cornell University Council and on the advisory councils of Cornell Plantations (now the Cornell Botanic Gardens) and Cornell Law School. In 1999, he established a scholarship fund to defray tuition costs for deserving Cornell Law students with financial need.

“On a personal note,” Mingle wrote, “Walter and his wife, Joan, who died in 2013, warmly welcomed Barbara and me on our arrival in Ithaca, and over the years they remained closely connected to our office, joining us for many office events.”

Relihan served as a state Supreme Court justice in upstate New York and in New York City until his retirement in 2007. He lectured on the law of evidence at state judicial conferences and Bar Association continuing education programs, was a fellow of the New York Bar Foundation and, after retirement, served on the State Judicial Qualification Commission in and for the Sixth Judicial District. In 2007, he was an adviser to President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes in the creation of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

His survivors include three children, Susan ’83; Walter III, MPS ’85; and Elizabeth Porter. Following a private burial, plans for a memorial service in the spring will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be directed to the Justice Walter J. Relihan Jr. Scholarship Fund, c/o Cornell Law School, Myron Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853; the Alzheimer’s Association of Central New York, 441 W. Kirkpatrick St., Syracuse, NY 13204; or Family and Children’s Services of Ithaca, 127 W. State St., Ithaca, NY 14850.

Media Contact

Melissa Osgood