Civic leader Bertie Cohen dies at 94
By Alison Knezevich
Charleston (WV) Gazette: April 17, 2010
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bertie Rodgin Cohen, a civic leader recognized for her tireless volunteer work, died Saturday at her Charleston home. She was 94.
The Bluefield native was the first woman to chair the boards of Highland Hospital and the United Way of Charleston.
"I suspect it was not a gender issue for her," said her son Alan, of Philadelphia. "I think she just felt that she had something to say ... she just happened to be a woman."
She had also been involved in numerous other community causes, including the Children's Theatre of Charleston, the Ronald McDonald House, the Temple Israel Sisterhood, and Hadassah, a Jewish women's group. She was a member of B'Nai Jacob Synagogue and Temple Israel.
In 1999, Cohen was given the Spirit of the Valley Award from the YMCA as recognition for her volunteer work.
At the time, friends told The Charleston Gazette that she sometimes left the house at 7:30 a.m. in a 1983 diesel-powered burgundy Mercedes, attended one board meeting after another, and returned home at 8 p.m.
"She had a passion for volunteer activities," Alan Cohen said. "She really believed that those were the keys to the success of the community, just as much as any business or commercial success." Her other honors included a Distinguished West Virginian award presented by then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller.
Cohen was also passionate about the arts and loved classical music, said West Virginia Youth Symphony president Helen Lodge, a longtime friend. She was a member of the Fort Hill Garden Club for more than 50 years.
Cohen also served as chairwoman of the state Commission on Aging. Lodge recalled her first encounter with Cohen at a commission meeting in the 1970s.
After hearing so much about Cohen, Lodge expected a tall woman.
"I was rather surprised when there was this dainty, classy little lady," she said. "But when she spoke, there was no doubt that this woman was very articulate, very intelligent, and she went though life with a mission."
Cohen mentored and engaged other volunteers, Lodge said.
"Whatever organization that I was a volunteer in, Bertie had already been there," she said. She received a bachelor's degree in education at Johns Hopkins University and attended graduate school at Columbia University.
She moved to Charleston in the 1940s when she married her husband, the late Louis Cohen. He built the Cohen Drug Co. pharmacy chain with the help of his brothers. The company was later sold to Rite Aid.
"She was sort of the quiet business partner with my father," Alan Cohen said. "She was never in the formal role of business partner, but was a constant provider of advice and guidance."
She is survived by sons, Dr. Alan Cohen of Philadelphia and H. Rodgin Cohen of Irvington, N.Y.; brother Dr. Jay I. Rodgin of Bluefield; and grandchildren Lara Langer Cohen, Sarah Cohen and Jonathan Cohen. A longer list of survivors is included in today's obituaries section.
A funeral service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday at Barlow-Bonsall Funeral Home in Charleston with Rabbi Victor Urecki and Rabbi James D. Cohn officiating. Burial will follow at B'Nai Jacob Cemetery.