Elizabeth Garrett, Cornell University's first female president, dies

Elizabeth Garrett was the first female president of Cornell University. She died of colon cancer after less than a year on the job, the university said Monday.

Story highlights

  • Elizabeth Garrett died of colon cancer; she began her tenure just last year
  • Board chairman: "There are few words to express the enormity of this loss"

(CNN)Elizabeth Garrett, Cornell University's first female president, has died of colon cancer. She was 52.

Garrett's death was announced in a letter Monday from Cornell Board Chairman Robert Harrison.
    "There are few words to express the enormity of this loss," he wrote. "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."

    Today we mourn the loss of our president, colleague and friend, Elizabeth Garrett.

    A photo posted by Cornell University (@cornelluniversity) on

    Garrett made her diagnosis of colon cancer public last month. She said then that she was easing back on her commitments as she was starting an aggressive treatment program.
    About 1 in 23 women are at risk of developing colon caner over the course of their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society. In its early stage, the five-year survival rate for colon cancer is about 92%. However, in its later stage, or if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, the five-year survival rate drops to about 11%.
    Garrett began her tenure as president just last year. She was Cornell University's first female leader and is the first Cornell president to die while in office.
    "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," Harrison wrote.
    "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."
    Cornell is in Ithaca, New York, and has an enrollment of almost 22,000 students. It was founded in 1865.