Volume 79, Number 20 | October 21 - 27, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


N.Y.U. and Villagers remember Bob Cohen for years of service

By Albert Amateau

New York University officials led by university president John Sexton joined more than 200 Villagers, former Villagers and friends last week to honor Robert I. Cohen, a member of the N.Y.U. Government and Community Affairs staff, who died July 1.

They paid tribute to Bob Cohen’s political savvy, street smarts and his devotion to N.Y.U., the city and the Village. They fondly recalled the years that he led the Washington Square Children’s Halloween Parade in his purple wizard’s garb. They recalled the array of events he volunteered for: holiday toy drives, The Caring Community and Friends of LaGuardia Place, and his long service to Community Board 2. University Chaplain Rabbi Dov Yonah Korn quoted the rabbinic sages on the nature of service to others.

“Bob was in and of the city,” said Sexton, referring to the watchwords spoken by Albert Gallatin in 1831 when N.Y.U was founded. Cohen loved N.Y.U and loved New York City, and believed the Village and the university should be united, and together would be great, Sexton said.

“I couldn’t remember a time in the Village without Bob Cohen,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. He was relentlessly optimistic, she recalled.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson recalled his first day as a college intern at the Village district office of the late state Assemblymember William Passannante, when Gerson became a protégé of Bob Cohen, who was in charge of the local office.

“He’ll never really leave us,” Gerson said. “He remains in our hearts.”

Assemblymember Deborah Glick recalled Cohen working with “quiet diplomacy” to resolve conflicts among competing interests.

“He was a fierce advocate for N.Y.U. and a fierce advocate for the community,” said Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president for university relations and public affairs. “Bob took me under his wing when I came to N.Y.U. He took us all under his wing and proffered advice about what restaurants to eat in, what shows we should see, and even suggested possible dates,” Brown recalled.

Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Washington Square Association, called Cohen “a staple in ours lives, trustworthy, unassuming and helpful. He had a great deal of experience and a generous spirit.” Sumner passed on the tributes of Cohen admirers who could not be present: Peggy Friedman, director of the Washington Square Music Festival, and Elizabeth Butson, former publisher of The Villager. Sumner and others also honored Barbara Cohen, his wife, who was at the memorial.

Arthur Makar, executive director of The Caring Community, recalled, “Bob’s word was absolute. If Bob said you’d have something, you would have it.” He also praised Cohen as a builder of consensus.

Harold Rubin, a boyhood pal of Cohen’s from the Bronx, recalled their friendship of 65 years: classmates at William H. Taft High School, trips to Far Rockaway, Fire Island and Nantucket in pursuit of girls, sandwiches at Artie’s Delicatessen and Bob’s knowledge of election results and parliamentary procedure, fostered by his father, Lou Cohen, a tough Democratic Party stalwart in the Bronx.



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