Cornell University

Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution

456 ILR Research Building, 607-255-9298

Memory Book for Margery F. Gootnick

Margery was a dedicated member of our board and made a valuable contribution to the success of the Scheinman Institute. She was one of the nation's most distinguished arbitrators; Margery was past president of the National Academy of Arbitrators and her list of achievements in the profession is truly remarkable. (If you are not familiar with everything she accomplished in her career, check her bio at Please join the Institute in extending our sincerest condolences to Margery's family and friends.

Marty and Margery 

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Our Memories

I took the Dispute Resolution course at the ILR School this past Spring and had the incredible opportunity to meet Margery by observing one of her cases. Margery was an absolutely amazing mentor and teacher during my observation, and I clearly remember her warmth, energy, and enthusiasm for her work. She loved helping to teach the next generation of neutrals, and I left my observation extremely motivated and inspired. I was very touched by her love for arbitration, and she stressed to me how important it is that you have a positive attitude wth anything that you do in life.

- Brian Fetterolf, NY - Jul 12, 2012

I share two memories of Margery, the first professional, the other personal.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to share an afternoon with Margery leading a training session for new arbitrators conducted by the Scheinman Institute. I found myself being more student than leader that day. It was my first, and sadly last, opportunity to hear her talk in depth about the art of being an arbitrator. I will always be grateful to Margery for what she shared with all of us that day, and I know we all became better arbitrators because of her.

The second memory I share had nothing to do with arbitration, but rather ballet. Someone told Margery that my daughter is a dancer and she sought me out right away to share with me her passion for that art. We had so much fun talking about ballet and making plans to see performances together. Margery had a life with many things she enjoyed outside of arbitration, and I was lucky to have her touch me in that way also.

- Scott Buchheit, Haddonfield nj - Jul 6, 2012

I first met Margery in the early 1980s at a meeting of the NYSBA Labor Section (as it was then called). We served together on the committee on Labor Arbitration, and I did not think she was anything special until she became the Chair of that committee, and then I learned what a force she was. I was appointed, I think by her, to be Chair of a subcommittee on mentoring new arbitrators, which developed the Arbitrator Mentoring Program, of which I was the first Chair. Although Margery did not think the Program would be successful, she gave it her full support, and helped make the great Program it has become. Also, she was the Coordinator of Region Activities for the National Academy of Arbitrators when I was the Chair of the New York City Region. While I was Chair, Jackie Drucker and I proposed an employment arbitration training program for labor arbitrators. Margery not only supported the idea, but she participated in the training program, and I am sure she was the reason we received a grant from the Academy's Foundation. Finally, I have been one of the instructors in the Scheinman Institute program for the development of new arbitrators, heading the session on managing the hearing. A little over a year ago, I was reprising the session for those who were in the first group of new arbitrators, and Margery, who was in NYC for something else, attended. Afterwards, Margery told me, as only she could, that it was "just the best" session on managing a hearing she had ever heard. Margery was a good friend to so many of us, and as I said on the NAA mailist at the time of her passing, no NAA or NYSBA meeting will ever be the same.

- Dick Adelman, Rockaway, NJ - Jul 5, 2012

Having had the Honour/pleasure of "getting to know The Gootnicks" circa l964 @ Glenwood Acres Ski Resort,now Kissing Bridge....

Then as Very special neighbors/friends again @ Bristol Harbour Village from l975....

It was Very sad with Lesters passing,and now Today,to have just learned of losing "Our Little Margie"as Doc so often,fondly Branded The Barrister Gootnick....

I was deeply sadened when a neighbor told me about Her passing,as I had Re-confirmed with her late last Fall a Date Certain for luncheon...a la Diet Coke at The Harbour this summer with her Porch Potatoe Alums...

When doing a venture capital raiseup,in l981, putting Notice to Guest caveats on ski lift towers,Lester and Margery/Doc threw in some of what they called their "oh #### money" which helped launch Ski ViewUSA,growing Globally under succesive ownerhsip(s).,and fortunetly worked out well for Shareholder Gootnicks,or perhaps Margery would have had me up before the SEC ?

Words are sadly an Inadequate Medium to descirbe Our Collective Cornell Community loss of both The Good Doctor and "His/Our Little Margery".

Joe Kohler

School of Hotel Administration'71

Former Cornell Council Member

- joe kohler'Hotel '71, grand bahama island/bristol harbour village - Jul 3, 2012

When I attended my first NYS Labor & Employment section meeting many years ago, I arrived alone, knowing few if any of the lawyers. Margery found me and made me feel welcome and at home. She was delighted to learn that I was a new arbitrator. Over the years, Margery was always encouraging and, of course, she was the Chair of the New Member Orientation Committee when I became an NAA member. She was so proud of all the new members (but strict on her time limits for introductions!). I recall the NAA meeting when Margery saw a picture of my sons on my computer; her eyes lit up and she wanted to know all about them. She was genuinely interested. Margery was an incredibly special person and a wonderful role model. I was deeply saddened by her death and will miss her.

- Melissa Biren, Maplewood, NJ - Jul 2, 2012

Thank you to the organizers of this memorial to Margery. Margery loved the Scheinman Institute. And you loved her back.

I first had the great fortune and sheer delight of meeting Margery in 1998 at an ABA Labor & Employment ADR Committee Mid-Winter Meeting. I was brand new to the Committee - so you can guess what happened. The first session opened with introductions. I said briefly I was a labor & employment attorney who would be moving with my family to Cleveland the following year and becoming a neutral. At the very first break, Margery scurried over to me and exclaimed, "You! You're gonna make it! You look like an arbitrator!" (Because I was short?) And ever since then, Margery was my new best friend.

I came to know her beloved Lester; Margery came to know my then-husband and children. (Well, they're still my children.) Last year, Margery met my new boyfriend. She exclaimed (Margery always exclaimed; she never just said anything), she exclaimed later, "I love him!" Then she paused and remarked, "Well, I don't really know him that well…but I love him!"

Margery's exuberance extended to all things. Once, when I was visiting her in Rochester after Lester's death, she declared, "I'm taking you to Wegman's!" "What's Wegman's?" I asked. She exclaimed, "Trust me, you'll love Wegman's!" Wegman's, as some of you know, is a grocery store. But according to Margery, not just any grocery store. Wegman's is "the BEST" grocery store. And of course, she was right.

Which brings me to the Porch Potatoes. Margery and Lester had for many years spent the summer at Chautauqua. After Lester died, Margery decided to invite her girlfriends to visit her at Chautauqua. We would sit on her lovely porch each July, drink wine (well, Margery would have her Diet Coke), and we would shoot the breeze about arbitration, mediation, husbands, children, boyfriends, and everything else.

And so the Porch Potatoes were born. Margery even had Porch Potato t-shirts made. Well, Margery had Gayle have Porch Potato t-shirts made. And Margery made us wear the Porch Potato t-shirts. Every day. Around Chautauqua. To concerts. To lectures. To breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It didn't matter what cute summer clothes you'd brought to wear. Margery wanted us to wear our Porch Potato t-shirts and so we wore them. Because there was nothing we would not do for her. As there was nothing she did not do for us and for her extraordinary number of best friends.

In addition to my charter membership in the Porch Potatoes, my second proudest professional moment came in 2008, when I was inducted into the National Academy of Arbitrators. By a quirk of fate, Margery was the New Member Orientation Co-Chair that year. So it was Margery who introduced me at the Academy Meeting, it was Margery with whom I had the joy of publicly recalling our first meeting, and it was Margery whom I had the privilege of thanking publicly. Sometimes, the stars do line up just right.

Margery was my mentor, my friend, my confidante, my colleague, my role model, my inspiration, and my guardian angel. I still don't quite believe she is gone. I thought, with her infinite enthusiasm and love, she would outlive us all.

I have noticed since Margery's death that I have been making an extra effort to encourage newer arbitrators. I always did it, but I do it now with Margery's extra-special effort. Paying it forward is one of her many exceptional legacies to all of us.

Margery, I will always miss you, love you, and be in your debt.

Susan Grody Ruben


- Susan Grody Ruben, Cleveland - Jul 2, 2012

Some years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving as a member of a three-person panel of neutrals that Margery chaired. There were some challenging moments. Margery was fair, firm, respectful, diplomatic and brilliant. And oh, did we have fun. Throughout, she ran a campaign to get the third panel member, then a newer arbitrator, to apply for membership in the National Academy.

Margery's avatar on Second Life. a tall blonde. said much about her: a thoroughly modern woman of serious purpose and great accomplishment, who had a terrific sense of humor and could poke fun at herself.

When my career was in its infancy, Margery encouraged and inspired me. I will always be grateful for her help.

Margery was legendary for her ability to care greatly for so many people. She often talked about her family, especially her adored grandchildren. When I gained entrance to the Grandmas Club, I think Margery was almost as excited as I was. I am among the many who loved her for this and so much more.

Margery will remain vibrant and alive in my memory.

- Sheila Cole, Delmar, New York - Jun 30, 2012

Margery was a selfless friend and colleague, a tireless and inspirational mentor, a passionate advocate for justice and fairness, and an eternal optimist and affable curmudgeon. And that just begins to capture Margery.

Will Rogers said "if you want to be successful, it's just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing." Anyone who even casually encountered Margery concluded that she knew what she was doing, loved it, and believed in it - whatever the "it" was at the time.

They may have disagreed with her, applauded her, been inspired by her. But they could never ignore her, never forget her.

Like all of us, I did not get to say goodbye to Margery as I would have like to have done. But in keeping with our long, warm, and irreverent relationship, Margery succeeded in having the last word. As she has done every year for over a decade, Margery made the effort to send me a humorous birthday card which in time for my birthday, the day before she died. She signed it simply "Fondly, Margery." How fitting.

We love you Margery, and miss you very much.

- Al Feliu, New Rochelle, NY - Jun 28, 2012

Margery had a way of making even her new friends in the National Academy of Arbitrators feel like her new best friend. Her "little girl" enthusiasm inspired all of us who loved her to be more like her. Always looking for ways to encourage and include, she even shared her home in Chautaugua so we could be introduced to the other "porch potatoes."

Margery was a modest person and I did not realize even a fraction of her accomplishments until her passing. She will be missed in so many ways but she will be remembered for a life well-lived.

- Linda Byars, Atlanta, Georgia - Jun 28, 2012

Margery was a mentor to me. When I told her I wanted to start an arbitration practice, she insisted I join her for several of her cases so she could introduce me to some of the top attorneys practicing in upstate. Of course I appreciated the opportunity to observe her conduct her hearings. She knew how to run a hearing. As the years passed, we would talk frequently and she always had really sound advice to impart. And she was always funny! But more than anything, Margery was my friend. I enjoyed her calls and my visits to her home(s). Sherry and I had the honor of being Margery's first visitors to her Rochester home a short time after Lester passed away. So goodbye my friend and may you rest in peace for a life wonderfully lived.

- Rocco Scanza, Ithaca, NY - May 30, 2012

I think this vignette bears reporting.

Margie was one of our founding members of the Board of Advisors of Cornell ILR's Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. We were lucky she saw the Institute along with the Academy and several other organizations "as very important to me". She was involved in every aspect, especially mentoring. By rough count, of 50 students in conflict resolution courses this semester, over a dozen accompanied her to cases asserting the experience was "life changing". In the last few years, literally dozens each year were blessed to be able to travel with her to hearings.

It has been reported to me Sunday night one of the students traveled from Ithaca to Rochester accepting her invitation to stay overnight at her home. The next morning, Monday, she simply reported she wasn't feeling well and the matter would be rescheduled. Simple ... Dignified, Just That. Apparently, that very evening she passed.

Anyone who knew Margie was touched by her genuineness, her warmth, her caring and her wisdom. My wife Laurie reported at each of our three times a year meetings how a highlight was the chance to visit and talk with Margie. Hers was a personality which surrounded you with what was good about life. Even when she faced personal tragedy and other obstacles she always took on more and answered everyone's plea for her help and involvement.

What a terrible loss for all of us. Yes, a life well spent. But, selfishly, we all needed more time with her.

May her life be a blessing and may her life be a reminder to live up to her example.

- Martin F. Scheinman - May 29, 2012

I had a running gag with Margery Gootnick. To understand it, you need to know that, though I've always needed a good pair of shoes to accomplish the six feet it reads on my driver's license (even before these advanced years of shrinkage), the top of Margery's head still didn't clear chest level. So whenever she spotted me speaking with someone at a conference or meeting, she would walk over, insert herself between us, and verbally demand my attention. I would then look to my left, and then to my right, and ask my colleague, directly over Margery's head, whether he or she could tell where that "low-pitched yet whining noise" was coming from. Margery would then pretend to kick me in the shins, sometimes "accidentally" making contact.

Height, however, was probably the only challenge she couldn't conquer. As a practicing arbitrator, Margery was certainly the little engine that could, as her résumé so amply attested: President of the National Academy of Arbitrators, Chair of the US Foreign Service Impasse Disputes panel, Member of the Foreign Service Grievance Board, panel member of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport, appointment to three Railway Labor Act Presidential Emergency Boards, and on and on. But beyond that, when it came to championing labor arbitration as an institution, she was a Lilliputian giant. I don't believe I've ever met anyone as passionate about their work, as devoted to their profession. The résumé makes clear that many of her cases were indeed special, important and intriguing. But to Margery, every one of her cases, from the everyday seniority case to the most pedestrian one day suspension, was "absolutely fascinating." And she just had to tell you about them. Sometimes, in the midst of one of her monologues, I would pretend to stifle a yawn. She would invariably look up at me with her sternest glare and say, "Oh stop that. Now don't you tell me you don't find this absolutely fascinating." And then she'd have another go at my shins.

Margery was utterly convinced of the righteousness of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism, and was a staunch defender of its integrity. She often related to me how personally and professionally insulted she felt, particularly in recent years, by the media and political forces that blamed grievance and interest arbitrators for much of the economic distress being experienced in the public sector, and for unfairly characterizing her colleagues as either being out of touch with reality or financially beholden to special interests. Her feelings in this regard were quite understandable, given her own prominent role in establishing the moral and ethical obligations of private arbitrators acting in the public interest. For to the best of my knowledge, in the 38 year history of interest arbitration in New York, Margery is the only neutral member of a tripartite panel to have dissented from an award.

For those who are young enough not to know or old enough not to remember, here's the story. Compulsory interest arbitration was enacted for police and fire fighters in New York in 1974, to be utilized in the event mediation and, at that time, fact-finding, did not bring about an agreement. Like now, one member of the panel was designated by the employer, one by the union and one, who became the neutral panel chair or "public" member of the panel, was mutually agreed to by the parties, typically after an alternate striking process from a list provided by PERB. In 1975, the City of Lackawanna and its police were at impasse, and a fact finder recommended a one year contract with a 9% wage increase. Thereafter, the parties reached a tentative agreement on two years at 9% and 8%, but the PBA had a change of heart and petitioned for interest arbitration, whereupon it appointed its President to the panel. The City appointed its Safety Commissioner, who had steadfastly opposed the union's demands and had supported both the fact finder's recommendation and the putative "deal." Margery was selected as the neutral public member.

Now the Safety Commissioner, who previously had been a police captain, served at the will of the then Mayor. Between the date of appointment of the arbitration panel and those of the arbitration hearings, an election took place and a new Mayor, of a different political persuasion, was voted in, to take office, of course, in January. This signified that the Safety Commissioner would be losing his post and would return after the new year to his prior rank of police captain, which was a title within the bargaining unit then before the panel. Within a few weeks of the close of the hearing, the Safety Commissioner apparently had an epiphany, and voted with the PBA President on a two year award of 15% and 10% for police officers and 20% and 10% for police captains!

I remember PERB's former Chair, the late Harold Newman, telling me just how apoplectic Margery - just a plebe in the arbitration field at the time - was at the seemingly obvious violation of the public trust by the employer's panel member (whose name, incidentally, was just can't make this stuff up!). Bizarre as it might have seemed, given that one key purpose of a tripartite panel is for the Chair to attempt to broker a deal between the partisan members - and here one was plainly being handed to her on a platter - Margery refused to be a party to it and filed a dissenting opinion. According to Harold, however, she was also concerned about potentially blowing up a brand new and controversial statutory impasse procedure by sounding off about fraud and misrepresentation. So she chose her words carefully:

"I must respectfully disagree with my advocate colleagues who I believe are well intentioned but misguided. Theoretically, if each is representing the interests of those who selected them and since they are in agreement as to the issues of Salary and Duration, this award should not be necessary. Since the advocate members of the arbitration panel are able to agree it should be possible to refer the issues back to the parties to sign a collective bargaining agreement. This is clearly not the case in this impasse.

As the Public Panel Member, I must represent the interest of the public and I find that the interests of the citizens of Lackawanna will not be served by this award. *** When the legislature amended the Taylor Law to include binding arbitration for police and fire groups, they stated that it would be a three year experiment. This places a grave responsibility on every arbitrator, both the public and advocate members, to make sure that the statutory criteria are satisfied and that the Fact Finder's report is seriously considered. It has long been held by the Courts of this State that Interest Arbitration is to be examined far more closely than arbitration of grievances. This places a heavy burden on this Panel and all other arbitration panels convened under Section 209.4 to be certain that any award is just and reasonable, based on facts and on the statutory criteria."

A petition to vacate was brought by Bethlehem Steel, as a taxpayer, and the court threw out the award, citing at great length Margery's "cogent" dissent, but having no trepidation about portraying the employer panel member's conduct as "fraudulent" and a "direct and irrefutable conflict of interest."

The ethics, integrity and concern for the arbitration process that Margery demonstrated in Lackawanna speak volumes about her personal and professional character. She was a great friend and advocate of PERB, which she credited with opening doors for her at a time when the field of labor arbitration and mediation was largely closed to women. And while her work was her priority, she was anything but cold and impersonal, never once failing to inquire about my well-being and that of my family...but only after regaling me with the facts and circumstances of her latest case! Rest in peace, Margery; you made a lasting contribution to the profession you loved, and will be missed by the entire labor relations community. The pearly gates will surely open themselves to you, but hey, if can just walk under them!

Damn, I think I just got kicked in the shins.

-- Rick Curreri, Director of Conciliation, NYS Public Employment Relations Board

- Richard A. Curreri, Albany, NY - May 21, 2012

As a student in the Dispute Resolution Practicum I had the opportunity to shadow Margery during one of her arbitrations in Rochester. I was struck by her hospitality, her unassuming nature, her true interest in ensuring I understood every aspect of the hearing process. During my time with her I remember feeling simultaneously impressed by her life's accomplishments and at ease in her presence.

- Erin Agee, Ithaca, NY - May 5, 2012

We are proud to be able to call Margery Gootnick an alumna of Cornell Law School. She had a remarkable and remarkably wide-ranging career, and her leadership in dispute resolution is legendary. She was an inspirational force for the Scheinman Institute, for all of Cornell, and for conflict resolution procedures throughout the country.

--Stewart Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean, Cornell Law School

- Stewart Schwab, Ithaca, NY - May 2, 2012

Margery was an inspiring character full of enthusiasm for both her profession and the people around her. I shadowed her arbitration for Profs. Lipsky and Scanza's Dispute Resolution Practicum, and was stunned by her hospitality in taking me into her home in Rochester and taking the time to listen to my opinion about the case I shadowed with her. Her own zeal for life will be met only by the admiration with which she is remembered.

- Danny Sexton, Cornell University - Apr 27, 2012

Margery was a trailblazer in so many ways, not the least of which was her being female in her Cornell Law School class. The enthusiasm and grace with which Margery tapped me for speeches from time to time was classic and classy. I could never turn down her requests because she set the example (and standard) for zeal, hard work, diligence and thoughtful scholarship and argument. I only wish I could excel as she did in all those ways. Once I heard that Margery would be on the Board of the Scheinman Institute, my decision to join became a certainty. I will miss her dearly. Jay

- Jay Waks, Larchmont, NY - Apr 27, 2012

I am a student at the Dispute Resolution Practicum in Cornell. When I was slated to visit Rochester for an arbitration hearing with Margery, she invited my wife over as well. My wife told me that Margery was "one of the best people I have ever met--Ever." She stated this not just posthumously, but also several months ago.

Margery's legacy resonates only partly, not solely, from her career. One could cite her copious list of professional achievements. But in the end, it is her uncanny ability to directly connect with the hearts of me, my wife, and presumably everyone she has ever encountered, that cements her place in the pantheon of Great People Ever Lived.

These superlatives happen to be understatements for a woman like Margery Gootnick.

- Wesley Au-Yeung, Cornell University - Apr 27, 2012

It is with my deepest regrets that I learned of the loss of Margery. Having met her while she was speaking to our Cornell Labor Arbitration course in NYC, I immediately took a personal liking to her cordiality and sincerity. She was without comparison in her professional life.

While reviewing her many accomplishments, it became quite apparent to me, just learning the ropes in arbitration, that I would one day like to exemplify Margery's zest for helping others, her dedication to her profession, and the simply beautiful outlook she brought to this life.

I was thrilled to have met Margery, an Upstate neighbor. I had expressed to her that our area of the state was depressed beyond belief, and that I might not want to stay in Utica to build my arbitration business. What stayed with me, from that moment to now, was her answer.

Margery said, "Believe in yourself, believe in what you will learn here, and once you do that, where you live will not be as important as what you will be able to accomplish. And, don't ever sell yourself short; your accomplishments will be based upon how well you offer your services to others, and not where you come from."

God be with you always Margery.

- Stephen Schiavi, Utica, NY - Apr 26, 2012

Margery was not only a distinguished professional, but a kind, thoughtful and generous woman. She enjoyed helping guide people in their careers and was always looking for ways to help and connect others. She was unfailingly upbeat and supportive and her enthusiasm for her work was contagious. She will be missed.

- Diane Rosen, NYC - Apr 26, 2012

In addition to being a great arbitrator/mediator, Margery was a reliable advisory panel member of the Scheinman Institute and flawlessly polite and encouraging to younger people who decided to start a practice as a neutral. As busy as she was, she remembered my name many months after I first met her. I will never forget that she called me while on her vacation to give me encouragement after a decision I rendered was overturned in the lower courts. I am paraphrasing but I recall her saying, 'David, I don't know if you realize this but you just got $500,000 of free, excellent publicity. You were right. Keep going.' I will always remember that phone call and her generosity. She was an inspiration to all of us.

- David Hyland, New York - Apr 25, 2012

Margery was truly unique. She cared for her friends and colleagues as if we were family. Margery cherished her work and her opportunity to help young aspiring neutrals to be as if she was their family. For her own family, Margery made us all know how she loved every person, every relationship, and every encounter with each of you, and most emphatically the grandchildren. We shared Margery in her exceptional life and will keep her close as we continue to work on the issues she held so dear.

- Nancy E Hoffman, Albany, NY - Apr 19, 2012

Margery was a very beautiful human being, and an inspiration to many women in this field. Her generosity of spirit, love of humanity, brilliant mind, and enthusiasm for arbitration were so evident. She contributed so much to this field and society, and yet exhibited such humility and willingness to learn from others. The first time I met her was at a reception, where I observed her seeking out young people to find out what their interests were, and how/if she might be able to help in some way. Margery will be missed by many.

- Marcia, Albany, New York - Apr 19, 2012