In Memoriam: Helen Elizabeth Garrett, 1963-2016

Elizabeth GarrettElizabeth Garrett, the 13th president of Cornell University and its first woman president, died on March 6. She was the first Cornell University president to die in office. President Garrett was 52 years old and had suffered from colon cancer.

Robert S. Harrison, chair of the Cornell University Board of Trustees, issued a statement which read in part, “Beth was simply a remarkable human being – a vibrant and passionate leader who devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service and had a profound, positive impact on the many lives that she touched. In this regard, she was the quintessential Cornellian. From the moment I met her during the presidential search, it was clear to me that she had the intellect, energy and vision not only to lead Cornell, but to be one of the greatest presidents in our 150-year history. While Beth’s tenure as president has tragically been cut short, her efforts over the last eight months have set the university on a path toward continued excellence. She will leave a lasting legacy on our beloved institution and will be terribly missed.”

Before becoming president of Cornell last July, Dr. Garrett was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and had served in that role since 2010. She also served as the Frances R. and John J. Duggan Professor of Law, Political Science, and Finance and Business Economics and Public Policy at USC. Before joining the faculty at USC, Dr.  Garrett was a professor of law and deputy dean of academic affairs at the University of Chicago.

Professor Garrett is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and the University of Virginia School of Law. Before joining the academic world, Dr. Garrett served as budget and tax counsel and legislative director for Senator David L. Boren of Oklahoma and clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court.


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  1. Omofolabo Ajayi says:

    How tragic – a life so young, and with many more laudable achievements still possible! I did not know her, but dying so soon after taking this high academic office is as shocking as it is moving. May her family be consoled. RIP.

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