Garrett's Bow President Garrett to be honored oct. 1

A chance meeting between the Cornell women’s rowing team and then President-elect Elizabeth Garrett established an instant connection for the students who met her, one that lasted through Garrett’s inauguration and her untimely death, and continues still.

On Oct. 1, the team will dedicate a new racing shell – the President Elizabeth Garrett – but the story began in April 2015.

The Cornell women’s rowing team was in the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport awaiting its flight home. The Big Red had just wrapped up the Clemson Invitational where it had bested Ivy League foe Penn to win the Class of ’89 Points Plaque for the seventh-straight season.

As the team passed the time, a murmur arose among the women – was that Cornell’s newly selected president, Elizabeth Garrett?

It didn’t take long to get the answer. On the plane, Garrett turned to assistant coach Paula Thoms and asked, “Are you the rowing team from Cornell?”

Garrett introduced herself, and she and Thoms chatted about Cornell and Big Red athletics. According to Liz Dennison, the Staley Head Coach of Women’s Rowing, Garrett’s enthusiasm and passion for Cornell were on full display when she joined the team in a rendition of the alma mater as the plane began its decent into the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.

President Elizabeth Garrett (clockwise from left to right) participates in the 2015 Homecoming pre-game coin toss, addresses members of the Cornell Rowing community at the 2015 Mullestein Dinner, and poses with Touchdown the Bear and Andy Noel, The Meakem*Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education.

“The team always sings the crew song and the alma mater when we are returning from a race,” says Dennison. “Typically, we’re on the bus and when Cayuga Lake or the boathouse comes into view, that’s when we start singing. She was really excited to witness the tradition and be a part of it.”

“After that, any time someone on the rowing team would meet her, she would enthusiastically talk about that moment on the plane when we started singing ‘Far Above Cayuga’s Waters,’” adds team member Caroline Crawford ’17.

That encounter – and the significance of seeing the first female president of Cornell inaugurated five months later – had a profound effect on the young women, and her death hit the members of the women’s rowing program particularly hard..

“Not only was she a role model to us as our university’s first female president but, like many groups on campus, our team felt as though we had a personal connection to her,” says Crawford.

“Those of us who had met her were huge fans,” says Meagan Perez ’17. “We were looking forward to having her come watch our home races … and I remember her being so excited to support our team.”

Dennison and the program wanted to find a way to honor Garrett in a lasting way. As fate would have it, the program was in the process of obtaining a new boat, and it was decided the shell would be named the President Elizabeth Garrett.

Caroline Crawford '17 in the bow seat of the President Elizabeth Garrett racing shell.

“There was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the idea of naming the shell after President Garrett,” says Dennison. “The alumni and the administration were very supportive of the idea and thought it was a great way to recognize her and what she was able to accomplish.”

The President Elizabeth Garrett, which will be used by the varsity and second varsity eight, will be dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 1. The christening will take place after the team’s annual Schwartz Cup, which welcomes back the alumni of the women’s team, as well as the heavyweight and lightweight rowing programs, to participate in a morning of class day racing.

The crews are slated to take to the Cayuga Lake Inlet at 7:45 a.m. with the dedication taking place at approximately 9:45 a.m. Members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities are welcome to join together at the Cornell Rowing Center and celebrate the lasting legacy left by a true leader and inspiration – President Elizabeth Garrett.

“A few of us organized a teamwide order for visors last spring with ‘EG13’ printed in blue on the side … and we donated a portion of the proceeds to the President Elizabeth Garrett Fund for Colon Cancer Research,” says Perez. “Members of all three programs raced in the visors for our championship races, and having a boat named after President Garrett will be very special to us every time we practice or race.”

Basia Sudol '19 (far right) wearing an EG13 visor.


Photos by: Dave Burbank, John Lukatch, Alan Albanir, P '16

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