Remembering Rebecca Blank: A Trailblazing Leader, Educator & Economist Who Lit a Spark in the World by Elisa Schmitz
We lost a bright light in the world when Rebecca M. Blank died of cancer on February 17, 2022, at the age of just 67. Rebecca was a visionary leader who blazed many new trails throughout her lifetime, and I was fortunate to have been touched by her special presence in my life.
Rebecca was a renowned economist who served three presidential administrations and served for nine years as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my undergraduate alma mater. She made diversity and access a priority during her time as chancellor. “Becky was a transformational leader for UW–Madison, serving during challenging times,” said UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz.
Photo: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Rebecca was appointed president of Northwestern University, my grad school alma mater, where decades ago she was one of the first tenured women in the economics department. In the new role, she was named the institution’s first female president. Sadly, she was forced to withdraw from the position before she could start, because of her cancer diagnosis. “Northwestern mourns the passing of a great leader who will forever be one of our own,” said Michael Schill, who was appointed president of Northwestern after Rebecca stepped down.
In addition to Rebecca’s professional accomplishments, she was an incredibly kind person who could inspire with just a smile. When I learned I’d been selected as the recipient of the Entrepreneurial Achievement Award from UW-Madison, I was filled with pride. My three kids and I drove to Madison fon the ceremony, where I was presented with the award by Rebecca herself.
Setting aside my awe of her as such an accomplished and trailblazing leader, I was drawn in by her authenticity and big-hearted charm. She was warm and welcoming, and she made my kids and I feel at home. I was filled with gratitude that my children could be inspired and motivated to follow their own passions and achieve their own success someday, too.
Although Rebecca’s bright light may no longer be shining, her legacy reverberates throughout all the lives she touched along her incredible journey – including mine. Thank you, Rebecca, for showing us all that is possible and making us believe that we can achieve anything, as you did. You lit a spark in us, and we will continue to pass the torch and fan the flames. Rest in peace knowing that your light radiates through the lives you impacted.
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