In 1985, the first year Cornell students were studying abroad in the United Kingdom, it occurred to Natalie Teich and other members of the executive committee that the Cornell Alumni Club of London, which had recently been revived from a slumber, should host a Thanksgiving dinner for alumni and students. At the last minute of planning with the caterer, it was discovered that turkeys were not easy to find in London in November—guests would have to settle for sliced deli turkey instead. Fifty alumni and 49 homesick Cornell students attended the dinner. The pumpkin pie was seasoned not with nutmeg and cinnamon, but with pepper and garlic powder. Alas, the British chef, unfamiliar with American culinary traditions, had got it wrong.
“Adversity brings people together,” Natalie remembers, “and it was actually a fun evening.”
Since then, she has continued to nurture, grow, and enliven the Cornell Alumni Club of London. She has served as the club’s president for nearly 20 years and has been described by more than one Cornellian as the club’s “backbone.” Her leadership and steadfast service to the club has resulted in innumerable new friendships flourishing, hundreds of entertaining and enlightening events that wouldn’t have been as successful without her ideas and planning, and a vibrant Cornell alumni scene in London.
In 1993, the club established the Summer Scholarship Program, which so far has sent 27 English, Northern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh students—at least one each summer—to attend the summer school at Cornell in Ithaca.
“We often had several hundred applicants for the one position,” Natalie recalls. “Our application form asked for the student (and a referee) to describe what they thought they could contribute to the other students at Cornell and what the experience would mean to the student. We raised funds for the tuition and accommodation from donations and a variety of different types of fundraising events.”
For many years, Natalie has written and sent a monthly alumni newsletter to club members that offers Cornell news, alumni updates, and descriptions of upcoming club events—be it a private tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum or a cocktail mixer at the House of Commons or listening to a fascinating talk by a visiting Cornell professor.
Natalie Teich has also made extraordinary contributions to the world through her groundbreaking work at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, where she and her colleagues discovered a viral component of cancer and the genetic switch that controls expression of certain genes, as well as the changes that occur in bone cells when they become cancerous.
Through her volunteer work in public health, she has helped men and women in a diverse array of London communities better understand and access available healthcare services, especially cancer detection and treatment. She was made a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2014, in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her valuable volunteer contributions to English public health. She is a lifetime member of the Cornell University Council, a sustaining member of the President’s Council of Cornell Women, and for ten years was the Class of 1965’s web designer and community manager (a role that required her to learn how to design in HTML!).
Cancer research, public health improvement, and alumni connections—her contributions in all three realms have a common theme: steadfast and hands-on work characterized by love and consistency over many years. And in all cases, her work has paved the way for others to succeed. From the health pamphlets she wrote to make medical options clearer to women in neighborhoods throughout England, to the Cornell Thanksgiving dinner that is now a 35-year tradition; from her significant scientific discoveries, including her discovery of the v-Fos retroviral oncogene, to the personal phone calls she makes to welcome new alumni and Cornell students studying abroad in the United Kingdom; Natalie Teich is one of Cornell University’s finest international ambassadors.
Written by Emily Hopkins, freelance writer in Ithaca, NY.