In Memoriam: G.G. Michelson

January 14, 2015

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger issued the following statement today celebrating the life of Gertrude G. “G.G.” Michelson (LAW’47), chair emerita of the University Board of Trustees:

“G.G. Michelson was highly intelligent, gracious and savvy as a person, as an executive and as a trustee chair,” said President Lee C. Bollinger. “An accomplished professional, she always knew about your family, asked how everyone was doing, and made you feel you had a deep and permanent friend. At Columbia, she was a pioneering leader of the Trustees during a challenging period for the University. G.G. was one of those alumni who made you feel proud of being associated with the institution. We will miss her greatly.”

Michelson, who passed away on January 10, was one of six women in her class at Columbia Law School, which is where she met her husband, Horace Michelson. After graduation she joined the Executive Training Squad at R.H. Macy & Co. where she continuously broke barriers for women, holding a series of increasingly senior positions until her retirement in 1992. Michelson also served on a number of corporate boards, including those of General Electric, Goodyear Tire & Rubber and Quaker Oats. She was often the first or only woman to serve on those boards.

Named a Columbia University Trustee in 1980, she was elected vice-chair five years later and chair in 1989, the first woman to hold that role at Columbia or any Ivy League school. She was a leading advocate for co-education at Columbia College, as the board weighed a decision to admit women, which it did in 1983. In 2011, Michelson received the Alumni Medal at Commencement for her outstanding work on behalf of the University.

“I find it particularly moving to see first-generation parents of kids who are graduating, where the parents have not had that opportunity,” said Michelson of Commencement in a video by the Columbia Alumni Association. “I walk away feeling how lucky I am to be associated with the enterprise.”

Read the New York Times obituary on Michelson.