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A Tribute to Pat Cohen

Posted: June 19, 2012

We are in the “business” of senior housing, and pride ourselves that our residents can live out their full lives in our communities.  We believe that they live longer and better because they live in such supportive, loving environments.  So when a resident in their late 90’s or 100’s dies, it is “normal” and even represents a small victory.

And yet, each time it happens we feel so sad and such loss.  This week provided another example—we lost Pat Cohen just days short of her 100th birthday.  As Maxine Bookless, the director of Golda Meir House where Pat lived, said “there’s a huge hole left at Golda Meir House with Pat’s death.”  Her son, Richard Cohen who is the Opinion Writer for The Washington Post, wrote an article that offered some special insights. It was featured in today's Post—here is part of it:

“My mother could have been president of the United States. She could have been chairman of General Motors, chief executive of Apple in the morning and of Google in the afternoon — and home in time to cook something for my father, quiz my sister and me on our school day and then rush off for a nightcap of canasta. She was the most competent person I’ve ever known, and her problem, if you could call it that, was she was born way before her time.

My mother was always feisty and independent — and not to be trifled with. In school, she learned the women stuff — typing and bookkeeping and shorthand, and after a while she set out from Brooklyn to Manhattan to find work. She was an adorable young woman, quite stunning, actually, but it was the Depression and jobs were scarce. She worked under the name of Pat Tyson to fool a fool who would not hire Jews, and she worked on Tin Pan Alley for the songwriter Al Piantadosi, and she worked for a plumbing supply business and for a paper company and in the business office where my sister and I went to school. For the longest time, she worked at St. Joseph’s, a Catholic hospital where she became the only non-nun to head a department. She was that good.

She worked all the time. She worked in her retirement in Florida — a dress shop and a bookkeeping job and then, after she retired from retirement, she volunteered in the gift shop of a hospital and worked the desk at the place where she lived [Golda Meir House]. She could organize the disorganized and outsmart the smarty-pants and figure the odds at poker. She was my father’s champion, his love and, finally, his nurse, getting him out of his chair and out into the world. A week before she died, she was back working the gift shop.

My mother was trapped in the social conventions of her time. Her ceiling wasn’t glass. It was gloomy, opaque — a leaden sky of fierce and smug sexism. She was a woman. She had to do women’s work.  My mother’s name was Pearl Rosenberg Cohen. Remember her. She was the president America never had.”

We agree with Richard’s assessment of his mother’s capabilities.  We also think that she had a chance, when she lived at Golda, to use her gifts to good end, even if the opportunities we offer fall short of the U.S. presidency.  According to Pat’s daughter Judith, they chose JCHE because we could “see her parents’ abilities, not their disabilities.” At JCHE, we believe that all seniors can grow and develop and enrich their lives and those of their neighbors.  That’s the essence of our governing philosophy.

Pat was active at Golda.  She gave tours to prospective residents and donors; she participated in chair yoga classes; she was in the Golda Melodiers and played Peter Pan once and sang “I Won’t Grow Up”.  She trusted the staff at Golda and we were able to help get through the hard times. 

Maxine summed it up: “Pat was a twinkling force, a bundle of positive adjectives in a tiny package. She seamlessly wove herself into this community and was noticeable for her approachability and good friends.”  Sarah Ovadia added: "It feels as if we should put the flags at half mast at JCHE.  Pat was that unique".  Believe us Richard, we will all cherish the memory of Pearl Rosenberg Cohen.



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