Leon Lawrence, Former Diversity Administrator, Dies at 74

students in conversation with Leon Lawrence

Leon Lawrence, at right, meets with students in 2008. William Staffeld / AAP

January 26, 2017

Leon Lawrence, a retired diversity administrator at Cornell with a legacy of campus and community service, died on January 20, 2017 in Ithaca. He was 74.

In 2001, Lawrence came to Cornell as the director of multicultural affairs in AAP. He directed the college's Office for Diversity and Inclusiveness, and mentored students of color for the next eight years.

"For many students of color in AAP and beyond, [Lawrence] made sure we felt individually seen, heard, and valued," says Emma Osore (B.S. URS '09). "He gave me my first official business cards for the first professional architecture conference I'd ever attended — I rode my first plane to this conference, and our multi-racial, cross-disciplinary team won first place in the student design competition. At the time, these experiences were beyond what I ever knew I could accomplish."

Osore reports similar sentiments from her classmates: "He brought my friends their first suits for interviews," "He really helped me find my place at Cornell and transition into the urban studies program," "He gave me the Autobiography of Malcolm X and it changed the course of my life," "He showed me how to love deeply — both family and humanity — through earnest commitment to daily work."

Lawrence left AAP in 2009 and became the associate director of Cornell's Office of Minority Educational Affairs and the director of State Programs Office.

Lawrence also served as staff advisor to the National Organization of Minority Architect Students' Cornell chapter, was a division deputy for the Cornell United Way Campaign, and served on the Employee Assembly for several years and was its chair in 2009–10. He was a coleader on the pilot of Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate, a peer-mentoring group for young black men. He retired from Cornell in 2011.

In the local community, Lawrence served as chair of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission and helped organize a local Black Lives Matter teach-in and solidarity march in October 2015 that was joined by campus and community groups. He came out of retirement in 2016 to serve as executive director of Ithaca's Southside Community Center, and continued to work there until his death.

Survivors include his wife, Diana, and four children. A memorial gathering open to the community will be held Sunday, January 29, from 2 to 7 p.m. at The Space at GreenStar, 701 West Buffalo Street, Ithaca.

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