The Trojan family mourned the loss of a leader on Sunday night. Former provost Elizabeth Garrett was serving as the president of Cornell University when she passed away from complications of colon cancer. She was 52.
Garrett was a leader at USC for over 11 years and served as provost for five. During her time at USC, she was lauded for making an incredible impact as an educator, administrator and friend.
“So many of us recall her remarkable energy, her tenacious commitment to her work and her deep passion for our community,” Nikias said in a statement. “Beth worked tirelessly on our behalf, and her accomplishments will continue to benefit the Trojan family for generations.”
A native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Garrett earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and her law degree from the University of Virginia. After law school, she worked as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Stephen Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Garrett also worked as the legislative director and tax and budget counsel for Oklahoma Sen. David Boren.
Garrett was deeply admired by those she worked with on the Hill. In 1988, she was listed in a law magazine as one of the year’s hottest new hires for private practice law. The distinction came as no surprise to those who knew her well.
“If I were to count on the fingers of one hand the people I’ve known with the most remarkable intellect, she would be on that list,” Boren said.
Foregoing what was predicted to be a highly successful career in law, Garrett chose to pursue academia. She began her work as a professor at the University of Chicago in 1995, and toured as a visiting professor at institutions such as Harvard Law.
In 2003, Garrett moved to Los Angeles to join USC. For seven years, she served as a professor of law and as vice provost for one year. In 2010, she became provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. As provost, Garrett recruited administrators, expanded the strength and diversity of undergraduate classes and expanded the University’s residential and online professional master’s degrees.
She also played a key role in other efforts to improve the University, such as expanding the University’s postdoctoral programs and programming new academic buildings. Also a celebrated author, Garret published more than 50 articles, book chapters and essays, and her casebook on legislation and statutory interpretation is considered one of the most influential works of its kind.
“USC was exceptionally fortunate to have Beth Garrett as our Provost,” said Stephen Gruber, the director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and a close friend of Garrett’s. “She brought our University to new heights, with even greater aspirations. [She] was a visionary.”
After a long tenure at USC, Garrett accepted an offer in 2014 to become the first female president of Cornell University. The achievement earned national attention, as Garrett became the fourth sitting female president in the eight Ivy League universities. Garrett herself noted the achievement as another important step forward in gender equality in academia.
“It certainly is not a battle that has been won,” Garrett said. “But it is a battle that we’re winning.”
Only months after taking her position, however, Garrett announced in early February that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. She began aggressive treatment immediately at Weill Cornell Medicine, and was released following surgery on Feb. 19. In the wake of her death, Cornell created a research fund for colon cancer.
“It is a tragedy that Beth’s life was cut short so soon,” said Laurie Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. “It’s also a painful reminder of why we’re all here — to advance medical research and offer patients the best care, so that they can achieve their dreams and live as fully as possible.”
At USC, Garrett’s loss is just as personal as it is professional. Fellow professors and administrators remember her fondly for her passion for supporting everyone her life, from students to coworkers to friends.
“I will miss her friendship,” Gruber said. “Beth took the time to write handwritten notes. Beth cared and asked about my family. She set high standards for herself and others, while graciously helping bring out the best in people. That’s a friend.”
Garrett is survived by her husband, Andrei Marmor, who remains a professor at Cornell’s law school.