TC alumna and President Advisory Council member Phyllis L. Kossoff — who made a lasting mark on the Teachers College community through her generous support — died on Nov. 15 at the age of 96.
“Phyllis’s steadfast commitment to bettering the world in the face of heartbreak inspired me as a colleague and a friend,” President Thomas Bailey said. “Her impact on Teachers College, cystic fibrosis research, and her other philanthropic causes will endure far beyond all of us, and we are grateful for her example of what it means to make a positive difference in the world.”
After earning her master’s degree in health education from TC, Kossoff taught in East Harlem before co-founding the Burton Packaging Company with her husband, whose family had been in the packaging industry for three generations. Kossoff would serve as senior vice president and later president of the company, named for her husband, Burton.
In addition to her professional endeavors, Kossoff dedicated herself to cystic fibrosis advocacy and philanthropy. The call to action was inspired by her late daughter, Stephanie, who was diagnosed with the disease in early childhood at a time when the life expectancy for those with CF was just three-years old, and the lack of research funding and patient resources were staggering. While raising and caring for both of her children — Stephanie and Mitchell — Kossoff partnered with her late husband Burton and other CF patient parents to spur what now is known as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF). She also was a former President of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Greater New York, and would also later establish a lecture series on CF at what is now New York-Presbyterian’s Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital.
Stephanie tragically passed away at the age of 19 following her first year as a student at Barnard College. But over the past 50 years, thanks to antibiotics, gene-protein therapy and other advances enabled by CFF, the median lifespan for individuals with CF has risen above 40 years.
In 2004, Kossoff would expand her philanthropic efforts to higher education — endowing scholarships and lectures at her daughter’s alma mater; at Baruch College in honor of her husband, an alumnus and trustee; and at Hunter and TC in her own name.
“I like programs, not plaques,” said Kossoff, who in 2004 created TC’s Phyllis and Burton Kossoff Scholarship Fund, which funded numerous Human Development scholars in her lifetime.
In addition to funding the Kossoff Scholars, the alumna established the Phyllis L. Kossoff Lecture on Education and Policy in 2007 to help continue TC’s role in the “national conversation on education,” policy and research. The Kossoff Lecture has included: a live debate between the 2012 Presidential Nominees’ Education Advisors; lectures by former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York State Education leaders, New York City School Chancellors and Citizen University’s Eric Liu; and a roundtable discussion featuring former New York State Regents Chancellor and TC alumna Merryl H. Tisch.
A valued member of our Grace Dodge, John Dewey and Maxine Greene Giving Societies, Kossoff served as a member of TC’s Alumni Council and had been a member of the President’s Advisory Council since 2001. In 2017, Kossoff received TC’s President’s Medal for her exceptional contributions to “making a world of difference” in both education and advocacy for cystic fibrosis research and treatments.
“Phyllis is a force in New York City and part of the fabric of TC,” the College’s then-president Susan Fuhrman said at the time. “You won't find a more dedicated alumna, a fiercer supporter of students or — I'm honored to say — a dear friend.”
Speaking to a tearful crowd, Kossoff remarked: “I know that so many of you have achieved mightily translating hope into that monumental effort – making our society a better place. If I may be counted among you, I am proud.”
For all that Kossoff accomplished during her lifetime, the alumna often rejected thoughts and praise around her own legacy.
“If there’s a legacy, it’s my daughter’s legacy,” Kossoff said in 2014. “After she died, I cut back working in CF for a few years. But then you think, ‘She was my child, and if I cared for her and loved her when she was alive, why would I abandon her in death?’ So I continued on to help others – to help others to validate her life.”
Kossoff is predeceased by her daughter Stephanie and husband Burton. She is survived by her son Mitchell and his wife, Pamela (M.A. ’06, Reading Specialist Program), four grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
Services will be held on Friday, November 18, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.
Riverside Memorial Chapel
180 West 76th Street
New York, NY