With the business of the Dean’s Advisory Council completed, two families joined together to celebrate the 80th birthday of Allan R. Tessler, AB ’58 LLB ’63, one of Cornell’s greatest benefactors. First, there were the Tesslers, with three generations, six Cornellians, and 18 members in attendance. Next came his Cornell Law family, led by Eduardo M. Peñalver, AB ’94, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, and Hon. Amy J. St. Eve, AB ’87 JD ’90, chair of the Advisory Council.
“To recite each volunteer office Allan has held would consume more time than I’ve been allotted,” said Peñalver, opening the event in the new academic wing. “Allan was for many years a member of Cornell’s Board of Trustees, and he continues to serve Cornell as a Presidential Counselor. He’s one of just two Life Members of the Law School Advisory Council, and Allan and [his wife] Frances’s extraordinary personal support of Cornell was recognized by the University when they were named Foremost Benefactors. Every time I write a letter, I include my title, and I am honored to hold an office that bears Allan’s name.”
Given another hour or two, Peñalver could have listed some highlights of Tessler’s professional career too, from his start as a young attorney at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton to his years as director of TD Ameritrade, CEO of International Financial Group, director of L Brands, co-CEO of Data Broadcasting Corporation, CEO of J Net Enterprises, chair of Enhance Financial Services Group, co-founder of CBS MarketWatch.com, and principal shareholder of Great Dane Holdings. But there was too much celebrating still to be done, and instead of talking about work, the evening was focused on family.
There was a slide show of Tessler’s life as a husband, father, and grandfather, filled with photos of hunting, boating, skiing, picnicking, and white-water rafting. There were toasts by friends, including classmate Donald Greenberg, BCV ’58 PhD ’68, who remembered washing pots and pans with Tessler as college freshmen. There were tributes from his wife, Frances Tessler, AB ’59 (“Allan credits the Law School for teaching him how to think”), daughter Andrea Tessler, AB ’85 (“I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate than Cornell”), and granddaughters Sophia Scarcella and Hayley Tessler, who quoted Allan’s oft-repeated “Hip hip hooray!”
Allan’s brother Craig Tessler, JD ’77, and Jacqueline Nieman sang a parody of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” describing Allan as “a real Superman” who “does exceedingly well/and we all think he’s swell!” The Hangovers sang eleven-part, finger-snapping harmonies on “Blue Skies,” Cornell’s “Alma Mater,” and “Happy Birthday,” followed by the Law School’s birthday presents: a wool blanket from the Cornell Sheep Program, a cover mock-up of the Cornell Law Forum that praised Tessler’s “seven decades of leadership and service,” and a deep sense of gratitude all across the room.
“Allan created a legacy decades ago with a gift of $50 to the Law School Annual Fund,” said St. Eve. “He has continued that legacy and been a role model for all Cornell alumni. Allan and Frances have given back to Cornell Law School in so many different ways — their time, wise counsel, gifts to students and faculty, and sponsorship of programs on campus. Through their generosity and tireless dedication to both Cornell Law School and Cornell University, they are Foremost Benefactors of Cornell, a title that is reserved for the most transformative of the university’s alumni. And transformative they have been.”
Then, with gifts given and cake eaten, it was the guest of honor’s turn. “To say that I’m overwhelmed is an understatement,” said Tessler, speaking briefly before returning to his seat. “Whatever I’ve done in this world that’s worked, I owe to the Law School. I’ve enjoyed the thrill of analyzing things in both the for-profit world and the not-for-profit world, and I plan to continue saying thank you to the university and the Law School, doing whatever I can. Tonight has deeply touched me — I’ll get emotional later on, I’m trying to control it right now — but this has been a glorious night, and I’m happy to welcome all of you here into my family.”