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Curtis and Pamela Reis

Curtis Reis '56 and his wife Pamela Reis were honored in 2010 as Foremost Benefactors of Cornell. Curtis Reis died Feb. 25, 2014 at age 79. Photo: University Photography file photo.

Consummate Cornellian Curtis Reis dies at age 79

Curtis Reis '56, emeritus trustee and longtime Cornell University Council member, died Feb. 25 at age 79.

Curtis Reis as a Cornell undergraduate

Curtis Reis in the early 1950s, not long after he entered Cornell University as an undergraduate. Photo: Provided.

Reis co-founded Cornell's Adult University, helped create several alumni initiatives, received the Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award in 2000 and, with his wife, Pamela Reis, was named a Foremost Benefactor in 2010.

Reis also created fictional Cornellian Narby Krimsnatch '56, who was elected to class office, appeared in the yearbook, was tapped for Quill & Dagger and made appearances throughout Reis' lifelong connection to Cornell.

"Curtis absolutely loved Cornell," Pamela Reis said. "It was one of the most important things in his life."

Ernie Stern, president of the Class of 1956, was close to Reis for decades. They founded Cornell's Adult University (originally Cornell Alumni University) in 1968, which Stern said "was to create a way for Cornellians to come back to the university in the summertime." The program was among the first of its kind.

Reis grew up in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y, and Ridgewood, N.J.; he was a varsity tennis captain in high school and graduated from Cornell with an economics degree. He served in the U.S. Army in Fort Dix, N.J., from 1957-59.

Reis worked for the Bankers Trust Co. and Crocker Bank, and in 1986 became chairman and CEO of Alliance Bank until his retirement in 2009.

Lifelong connections

Curtis Reis

Curtis Reis '56. Photo: Provided.

Stern said he and Reis spoke often and shared a socially conscious outlook on the world, "a deep and profound sense of our owing to this society and participating in it."

"Curt's sense of doing good for its own sake was a paramount characteristic," Stern said. "I respected him enormously for that. He was just a giving, loving person, and he was also a good businessman."

Stern recalled a summer 1956 trip he, Reis and about 20 other new graduates and rising seniors took after graduation to Iran as guests of the Shah of Iran to attend a conference of students of the Middle East. It was "a fabulous and fascinating experience" and "a magnificent adventure," said Stern. The trip infused the Cornell students with sudden global awareness and kept the class closer to each other, and to Cornell, over the decades.

Reis served as president of the Class of 1956 from 1959-81; he was elected a trustee in 1983 and served on the Cornell University Council, the Tower Club National Committee and on the boards of the Cornell Clubs of Greater New York and Southern California.

"We in Los Angeles were very fond of Curtis and in awe of his commitment to Cornell and to the Cornell Club of Los Angeles," said Nancy Mills '64, CCLA secretary and former CCLA president. Former CCLA president and University Council member Richard Stearns '79 agrees: "I feel so lucky to have known and worked with Curt. … He always cared and he always connected." Stearns recalls spending many evenings sitting next to Reis at club board meetings, and he would "invariably pass me a note, always with something witty or insightful or irreverent and sometimes all three," Stearns says.

In 2010, Curtis and Pamela Reis, with the Reis Foundation, made a gift (matched by the Mellon Foundation) to establish the L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professorship of Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Curtis Reis' late parents, L. Sanford '29 and Jo Mills Reis '29, also were Foremost Benefactors of Cornell. The family legacy includes the Reis Tennis Center (which marked its 20th anniversary April 5), the Reis Family Lectureships to strengthen Arabic studies, the Jo Mills and L. Sanford Reis Scholarship Fund and the stage in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts' Kiplinger Theatre.

Reis is survived by Pamela, his wife of 35 years, three children and six grandchildren, including Blythe Reis '80 and Myles Rowland '11. His sister, Dale '58, and her husband, Dick Johnson '57, also are active Cornellians and Foremost Benefactors.

Contributions can be made in Reis' name to Cornell University Athletics, c/o John Webster, Teagle Hall, Campus Road, Ithaca, NY 14853-6501, for the Curtis Reis Fund for Big Red Tennis, or to the UCLA Kidney Exchange Program, c/o Keri Eisenberg, UCLA Department of Urology, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1771.

Celebrations of Reis' life are being planned for May on the West Coast and June on the East Coast.

Related links:

CornellCast video: Reflections from Curtis Reis '56

Cornell Club of Los Angeles' Q&A with Curtis Reis

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