Robert Appel, Vice Chair of Weill Cornell Medicine Board, Dies at 91

Robert J. Appel at the Belfer Research Building dedication

Robert J. “Bob” Appel ’53, a vice chair of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Board of Fellows, Cornell trustee emeritus and presidential councillor, died Nov. 19 in New York, at age 91.

An active and enthusiastic Cornell alumnus, Appel was a devoted champion, distinguished leader and esteemed benefactor of the Ithaca and Weill Cornell Medicine campuses. He was a prodigious advocate of living by example and, alongside his beloved wife Helen ’55, took immense pride in advancing Cornell’s mission.

“Bob’s legacy – as a dedicated alumnus, volunteer, board member and philanthropist – is enormously far-reaching,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “He will always be one of the truly great Cornellians: compassionate, visionary and with a boundless love for Cornell, its people and its mission.”

Robert J. Appel at the Appel Symposium

Bob Appel at the 2019 Appel Alzheimer's Symposium. Photo Credit: StudioBrooke

Appel joined the Cornell Board of Trustees in 1996. During his eight-year term, he served as chair of its Investment Committee and as a member of the Executive Committee. Since 2004, Appel has been an emeritus trustee and presidential councillor to six presidents.

Bob and Helen’s philanthropy has strengthened the university across its campuses. On the Ithaca campus, they provided support for numerous projects, including the Appel Commons on North Campus, Lincoln Hall and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, they funded presidential research scholarships, fellowships for humanists and social scientists, and a professorship in molecular and cell biology. The Appels also regularly volunteered their leadership, chairing several class Reunion campaign committees and co-chairing the Tower Club.

For these and other achievements, the Appels were awarded the Frank H.T. Rhodes Exemplary Alumni Service Award this September.

“Bob’s commitment to Cornell and to research, discovery and the arts has and will continue to benefit generations of Cornellians, and for this we are truly grateful,” said Kraig H. Kayser MBA ’84, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees. “Through his leadership, generosity and warm spirit, Bob embodied what it means to be a Cornellian, and he will be deeply missed.”

After completing his term as trustee in 2004, Appel was elected to Weill Cornell Medicine’s Board of Fellows, serving as a vice chair since 2009, as well as a member of the Executive, Membership & Governance, and Development committees.

For nearly two decades, Appel indefatigably advocated for Weill Cornell Medicine’s vision of excellence in medicine and science. He cared profoundly about impactful philanthropy – how giving can be transformative in extraordinary ways – and inspired Weill Cornell Medicine’s countless donors to advance the institution’s mission.

Bob, Helen Appel and Li Gan in the lab

Bob (center) with his wife Helen (left) and Dr. Li Gan (right), director of the Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer's Disease Research Institute Photo credit: John Abbott

His achievements are embodied in the Discoveries that Make a Difference campaign that he chaired, which surpassed all goals with more than $1.6 billion raised for Weill Cornell Medicine. They are also reflected in the Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute, which he and Helen generously established to root out the scourge of neurodegenerative diseases. Appel’s legacy will also endure in the Belfer Research Building, which he helped fund, and in the valuable support he provided to Weill Cornell Medicine’s faculty.

“Bob was a giant in the Weill Cornell Medicine community who put his heart into everything he did,” said Jessica M. Bibliowicz ’81, chairman of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Fellows. “A tireless champion of our institution, he will long be remembered for his passion for health care, his dedication to curing Alzheimer’s disease and his commitment to improving the lives of others. He strongly believed in the power of philanthropy to make the world a better place – a sentiment that epitomized his and Helen’s generous giving, and galvanized others to do the same. He will be greatly missed by all who were lucky enough to know him.”

Appel was honorary chair for the current We’re Changing Medicine campaign, for which neuroscience is a central pillar.

“Bob’s unwavering commitment to Weill Cornell Medicine and the field of neuroscience was truly visionary,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “His steadfast support has left an indelible mark on our institution. We are eternally grateful for his and Helen’s leadership, which has forever changed Weill Cornell Medicine.”

Appel earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1953 from the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences, and an MBA in 1955 from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He dedicated his career to investment management, serving most recently as president of Appel Associates, an investment firm he founded in 2003. For nearly three decades prior, Appel was a partner at Neuberger Berman, an investment and securities brokerage firm, where he was also a member of its executive committee.

Charismatic with boundless humor, optimism and candor, Appel was also a member of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Board of Trustees and chairman emeritus of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

He is survived by his wife, daughters Susan Appel Slavin and Debra Appel Weinreich, and three grandchildren.

A version of this story first appeared on the Cornell Chronicle.

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