March 26, 2002

Rhodes Recovering, in Good Spirits

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During the past seven weeks, Frank H.T. Rhodes, Cornell’s ninth president, has been recovering from an automobile accident in Naples, Fla. where he has a home with his wife, Rosa.

After he was hit by a van, Rhodes, 75, sustained several fractured bones and a broken nose. The doctors were worried about his chances for survival, Rhodes said.

Despite the circumstances Rhodes has remained in excellent spirits, said Joy Wagner, Rhodes’ assistant.

“There have been no setbacks,” Wagner said. In fact, she added, the recovery has been going much more quickly than the doctors expected.

Since the accident, Rhodes has received almost 900 messages from members of the Cornell community. Wagner noted that this support — in the form of letters, telephone calls and e-mail — has been essential for Rhodes’ recovery.

With Wagner’s help, Rhodes devotes a significant part of his day replying to the greetings. Because his right hand is broken, he cannot write or type himself and must dictate his responses to Wagner.

In addition to the messages, Rhodes has received personal visits from President Hunter R. Rawlings III, Ingeborg T Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development, Jerome Ziegler, professor emeritus in the department of policy analysis and management, and Charles M. Vest, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Recently Rhodes had two rigid casts removed which allowed him to wear flexible ones instead. The new casts have made his daily activities much more comfortable, he said. For the first time since the accident, Rhodes has begun to walk again this week, “with the help of a therapist on one side and a crutch on the other,” he said.

Rhodes’ first steps might not have looked much like walking to most observers, he joked, but for him it was a major accomplishment considering he had been in bed or a wheelchair for seven weeks.

Though Rhodes has not set a date for when he will return to Ithaca, if things continue as planned he hopes to be back and settled in time for the Alumni Reunion in June. In the meantime, he expects to move to his Florida home in a month. At that point, as an outpatient at the rehabilitation home he may fly to some events at Cornell.

Rhodes, who was originally in the Naples Community Hospital, was eager to express his gratitude for the rehabilitation facilities at that hospital and at his current rehabilitation home.

His daily routine includes five hours of intense physical therapy, Wagner said. Rhodes has been working extremely hard with unparalleled determination to keep his recovery constant, she noted.

In addition to all of the time that Rhodes spends in physical therapy and responding to well-wishes, he is working on finishing the manuscript for a new edition of his book, Language of the Earth. He hopes to complete the text by the summer.

During a recent telephone conversation with Rawlings, Rhodes learned first-hand of his successor’s intention to step down and become a full-time professor in the classics department. He was among the first to know.

In 1994, Rhodes took a similar step in announcing his decision to leave Day Hall during a press conference with the Board of Trustees in mid-March. Rhodes also moved into a position with the University faculty, joining the department of geology.

“Hunter Rawlings has set us on a terrific track,” Rhodes said. “I hoped he would stay on for a hundred years.”

Rhodes would not venture to speculate on how the Board of Trustees should pursue Cornell’s 11th president.

“I won’t tell them what they should look for,” he said.

However, Rhodes asserted that an extraordinary person will be needed to balance the responsibilities of running the University, especially given the New York State budget constraints that have emerged following Sept. 11.

Archived article by Aliza Wasserman