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NYU Creative Writing Remembers Lillian Vernon

The NYU Creative Writing Program mourns the passing of Lillian Vernon, a treasured member of our community and one of New York's great philanthropists and entrepreneurs. An invaluable supporter of NYU and the arts, she gave us the beautiful Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, a warm and welcoming home for our program, among many other gifts. For her extraordinary generosity we will always be grateful.

Ms. Vernon came to the United States in 1937 as a Jewish immigrant fleeing the Nazis. Her inspiring legacy as a pioneer in business began when she started the Lillian Vernon Corporation in 1951 at her kitchen table. The first woman to found a company publicly traded on the American stock exchange, she was appointed as chairwoman of the National Women's Business Council in 1995 by President Clinton, one of many crowning achievements in a career that made Lillian Vernon, according to The New York Times, "an American household name." In a March 1996 issue of Current Biography, Ms. Vernon said regarding women's rights, "It is better now. And if I've helped to make it better, so be it."

Ms. Vernon was the founder of the Lillian Vernon Corporation, a leading national catalog and online retailer that of gifts, housewares, gardening, children's, and holiday products. Possessing what she called a "golden gut" for understanding her customers' needs, Ms. Vernon traveled the world to find personalized gifts and ingenious gadgets long before the global marketplace opened up.

An NYU trustee and a member of the Sir Harold Acton Society, Ms. Vernon also served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, City-Meals on Wheels, and the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic. She received several honors, including induction in the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Big Brother/Big Sisters National Hero Award and Gannett Newspapers Business Leadership Award. Ms. Vernon was named one of the 25 most fascinating people by Fortune Magazine, and published an autobiography, An Eye for Winners.

The NYU Creative Writing Program is indebted to her example of a life fully realized, and to her kindness and generosity. She will be deeply missed.