The terrible headlines said that Cornell’s president, the first woman to head the university, had died of cancer at age 52.

The news hit hard not only in New York State but also here in California. Many of us Californians were lucky enough to know Beth Garrett. She was a star in academic world, and a major contributor to thinking in the political world. Her death was unexpected—it had been only a few weeks since news broke that she was being treated for cancer.

She may be best remembered for her work as an administrator at USC, most recently as provost, building up that institution’s academic and financial resources. She did so well there she was hired away by Cornell. She was so good that one of the Ivies had turned over its management to a graduate of two state schools – the University of Oklahoma and Sacramento State.

Some in Sacramento may remember her as a thoughtful and devoted member of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

I treasured her as a font of ideas about how to improve direct democracy, and how it interacted with the law and with the budget. As a reporter at the LA Times, she sent me papers she’d written that posed hard questions about participation and the law. She always got me thinking, and I wrote again and again about her ideas. She did great work on the initiative and referendum process – so much so that she was an inspiration (and occasionally, a counselor), in efforts to build up a Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy—a global network to create conversations and sharing of ideas between scholars, journalists and practitioners of direct and participatory democracy.

I wish I had spent more time talking with her. She was direct and funny and generous. It is hard to believe she is gone.