Cornell University President Elizabeth Garrett has died from colon cancer, the university said, less than a month after announcing her diagnosis and just eight months after she assumed her post. She was 52.
Garrett, the first female president of the Ivy League school, died Sunday night at her home in New York City, Cornell said.
“There are few words to express the enormity of this loss,” Robert Harrison, chairman of the Cornell board of trustees, said on Monday. “Beth was simply a remarkable human being — a vibrant and passionate leader who devoted her life to the pursuit of knowledge and public service.”
Garrett started as president on July 1, 2015, and was inaugurated last September. She revealed on Feb. 8 that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and had surgery on Feb. 19 before starting aggressive treatment at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.
The university said she is the first president to die in office there.
Garrett made a strong impression on academics and politicians alike. Prior to becoming Cornell’s president, she was a provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Southern California — the first woman to hold that title, too.
In 2005, President George W. Bush appointed her to serve on the bipartisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. From 2009 to 2013, she was commissioner of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called her a “visionary leader” in a statement Monday.
“Elizabeth’s passing is a great loss not only for her university, but for our state,” he said.
Garrett focused on attracting top faculty to Cornell during her short tenure, saying last October that the university was on track to hire up to 100 new faculty members this school year.
An Oklahoma City native who got her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a law degree from the Virginia School of Law, Garrett was once a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. She told Times Higher Education magazine in 2014 she hoped to be a role model for young people.
“Being the first woman president of Cornell, just as I was the first woman provost at U.S.C., puts me in the position of being a role model — not just for young women, but also for men,” she said. “It is important for women and men to see strong and capable women in positions of leadership, so we understand that certain characteristics such as gender and race do not determine how well people do in those offices.”
Garrett was married to Andrei Marmor, a Cornell professor of law. The university held a moment of silence for her Monday afternoon.