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University Board of Trustees Vice Chairwoman Natalie Koether died of heart failure on Friday at the age of 63.

"She was embedded with some of the best traits of a true Pennsylvanian," said Chairman of the Board James Riepe, who served alongside Koether on the board for nearly 15 years. "She was bright, thoughtful, tough-minded, willing to take on any challenge and incredibly committed to Penn. I will miss her personally, as will my fellow trustees."

A "fighter" according to Riepe, Koether was serving on the presidential search committee at the time of her death.

"Although obviously very weak," Riepe said, she attended the first meeting of the Consultative Committee before being hospitalized on Sept. 24.

Koether was also president of PureWorld Botanicals in Hackensack, N.J. She had led the company -- a major extractor of natural botanicals -- since 1995.

University Secretary Leslie Kruhly said that because Koether was one of three vice chairmen of the Trustees Executive Committee, a new vice chairman may not be appointed in the near future.

However, Riepe will be nominating a new board member to the search committee to take Koether's seat, according to Kruhly. The nomination will then require approval from the Board of Trustees. No timeline for the nomination has been set as of now.

A graduate of Penn's College of Women and of its Law School, Koether presided over the School of Arts and Sciences' Board of Overseers, serving longer than her predecessors --and any dean of the school -- before stepping down after nine years at the helm in 1999.

"We're devastated in the School of Arts and Sciences," SAS Dean Samuel Preston said. "She... saw us through some tough times."

During her tenure with SAS, Koether chaired the committee that ultimately chose Preston to lead the school, personally endowed a chair in the English Department and, finally, became the first alumna to be awarded the SAS Dean's Medal.

"She was someone at the helm who steered the ship to shore," Preston said, adding that she was "a very hard-headed woman, not given to sentimentality."

From the start of her term as SAS's Vice Dean for External Affairs in 1995, Jean-Marie Kneeley worked closely with Koether. Kneeley praised her dedication to Penn and SAS.

"She was truly a remarkable woman," Kneeley said, adding that Koether's "devotion to the school was truly an inspiration to me."

Those close to her knew her as a straight-talker.

"She was very direct and forthright...," Kneeley said. "If the emperor had no clothes on, she would be the first one to tell you."

However, her pull-no-punches approach was accompanied by altruism.

"She always did it from a position of caring what was best for the University or the school," Kneeley said. "Natalie did not have a personal agenda."

Preston concurred.

"She had the highest interests of the school, of the University, at the core of her being," he said.

Though there will be an on-campus memorial service for Koether this fall, details have not yet been finalized.

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