Walter Lynn, Former Ombudsman, Dies

June 13, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Juan Forrer

Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator, remembers the way that former University Ombudsman Walter Lynn, who died June 6, would show up to holiday parties wearing a bright red Rudolph the Reindeer nose and ears.

“Here’s an important man doing important stuff, and here he has a great sense of humor and is willing to be whimsical,” she said.

Lynn died at age 82 after a battle with cancer. Friends and coworkers remembered Lynn for his sense of humor, fairness and dedication to the University.

“He was always pleasant,” said retired Prof. Mal Nesheim, nutritional science, a friend of Lynn. “He dealt with issues with a lot of depth and good humor. He could deal with different issues in a way that made it not all that hard.”

As the University’s ombudsman, Lynn advised members of the Cornell community on issues ranging from students who had problems with grading, to faculty who were having problems with tenure or sexual harassment. He helped people understand University policies and options for recourse.

“When people come to our office they’re facing a problem, and often it’s quite serious,” said Linda Falkson, associate ombudsman. “Not only was Walter able to help the person figure out what the person wants to do about the situation, but he had an amazing way of respecting the dignity of the individual.”

Lynn came to Cornell in 1961, serving as a professor in sanitary engineering. He served as the Dean of Faculty from 1988 to 1993. He became a professor emeritus in 1998 before he became ombudsman, serving for 12 years, until only two weeks before his death.

“The crucial thing in this job is, never take yourself too seriously. That’s absolutely essential,” Lynn told the Cornell Chronicle when he announced his retirement in March. “Start taking yourself too seriously and you’re in big trouble. Just terrible trouble.”

News of his decision to retire in March retirement launched a search for a successor, though a replacement has yet to be announced.

During his tenure at Cornell, Lynn served as the director of Civil and Environmental Engineering from 1970 to 1978, the director of the Center for the Environment from 1996 to 1997 and member of the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1985.

One of Lynn’s proudest accomplishments at Cornell, according to Falkson, was establishing the Weiss Fellowships, which are awarded annually for innovation and excellence in undergraduate teaching at Cornell.

“He cared deeply about the individuals and the visitors in the office he met with and the Cornell community in general. He worked for the betterment of Cornell, and he’ll be sorely missed,” Falkson said.

In addition to his work at Cornell, Lynn served as a sergeant in the Korean War, mayor of Cayuga Heights from 2002 to 2008 and chairman of the national Board on Natural Disasters from 1992 to 1996, among other positions.

President David Skorton sent a letter of condolence to the community Wednesday, calling Lynn “one of the most beloved members of the Cornell family.”

“He will be remembered by all who knew him as a man who loved Cornell and devoted his career to making it a better place,” he said.

Lynn is survived by his wife, Barbara Lynn, as well as a son, brother and nephew. Plans to commemorate Lynn’s life have not been finalized.