Vol. 19, No. 29

May 4, 2000

Colleagues pay tribute to long-time UD photographer

Nearly 2,000 friends, colleagues and family members attended an April 26 celebration of the life of Robert I. Cohen, University photographer for almost 15 years who died tragically April 21.

Throughout the ceremony in the Bob Carpenter Center, images taken by Mr. Cohen were projected on a screen behind the speakers.

The Rev. Laura Lee C. Wilson, campus pastor and executive director of the Wesley Foundation Campus Ministry, opened the ceremony, calling it a tribute from his UD colleagues, recognizing "his place in our larger family, the many of us who love him and who will miss him."

The images used in the ceremony, she said showed "not only his skill of photography, his love for the University of Delaware family, but things he saw through his extraordinary eye and heart. As the Jewish proverb reminds us, 'the heart sees better than the eye.' That is how Bob saw people–with his heart, then his eyes," she said.

UD President David P. Roselle said the location of the event was particularly fitting, since "many of Bob's brightest moments, both as a photographer and as a fan were [in the Bob Carpenter Center] as he photographed the men's and women's basketball teams, not to mention many of the performing artists who have appeared here....

"In talking this week with some of the many, many people who knew and loved Bob, I've heard story after story about his ability to connect with people, to share the best parts of himself, to brighten any event with his laughter and whimsical charm," Roselle said. "That connection with others, that spark, was a great gift that Bob gave to all of us, and I would urge you to reflect on how lucky we are that he did."

Edward M. Okonowicz Jr., editor in the Office of Public Relations, shared his coworkers' reminiscences of Mr. Cohen's unique sense of humor, his talent and his generosity.

"Bob Cohen could never get lost in a crowd," Okonowicz said. "We could spend hours talking about his trademarks–from his motorcycle sidecar and red Hornet station wagon with the bullhorns on the hood, to his rumpled T-shirts and the dark blue stocking cap that he sometimes seemed to wear 24 hours a day."

Among his many exploits and practical jokes, Okonowicz recounted the time Mr. Cohen was going to New York City, and John Brennan, assistant director of public relations, asked him to bring back a souvenir. It happened to be during a trash collectors' strike, and when Brennan came in to work on Monday, a trash bag full of garbage was sitting in the middle of his desk.

Cynthia Cummings, director of residence life, said although she did not know Mr. Cohen well, she felt they "shared something intangible, something inexplicable."

Years ago, during a photo shoot, when she told him of a diversity training program she was developing, he was immediately interested. "I was struck by Bob's sincerity, by his openness, by his earnestness," she said. Some time later, when the program to train diversity trainers began, Mr. Cohen was there. "I was so glad to see him," she said. "I knew that Bob was exactly the kind of person this campus needed to advance the appreciation of diversity. He was a powerful member of our training group....

"I hardly knew Bob Cohen, yet I will miss him terribly," she said. "I hardly knew Bob Cohen, but what I knew of him I loved."

Athletic Director Edgar N. Johnson called Mr. Cohen a colleague, friend, respected member of the University community and "a fixture at so many University events."

Although events varied in their level of solemnity, "Bob's attitude and engaging smile never changed," Johnson said. "He was professional and low key on every assignment....

"Bob was with us in athletics at all our good times: He chronicled our joys and triumphs, our victories and, sometimes, our defeats. He captured our best and brightest moments in pictures for history," Johnson said.

Vincent Shipman, police manager in public safety, recalled Mr. Cohen as a long-time friend and player in lunchtime basketball games in the Carpenter Sports Building. "We have a very diverse culture–students, professors, staff, community, and Bob always kept it going," Shipman said.

Lawrence Thornton Jr., director of public safety, read messages from Mr. Cohen's family, including one from his mother, Judy Cohen, which said, "I love you, Bob, with all my heart. And, I know one thing for sure: You would have liked it if we all had come here today in jeans and sweatshirts!"

As a musical offering, Keith W. Heckert, graphic designer II, Information Technologies– University Media Services, and Lawrence A. Larraga, Information Resource Consultant III, Information Technologies–User Services, performed an original composition, "Where You Go."

Mr. Cohen's sense of humor was captured in a special slide and video show at the conclusion of the ceremony, which captured him in action on several assignments and also demonstrated his trademark way of poking gentle fun at his colleagues, by creating photographs that featured their heads on the bodies of famous, and sometimes infamous, personalities.

Robert I. Cohen grew up in Glen Cove, N.Y., and attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1974-76. He studied photography at Cecil Community College in North East, Md., where he received an associate's degree with high honors in 1980.

From 1980-85, he was a free-lance photographer for a range of clients, including UD, Avon Inc., the Democratic Party of Delaware and Richardson Associates. He also taught photography during that period for Cutler Camera and New Castle County Parks and Recreation.

He was a beloved member of the UD public relations staff, joining it as University photographer in the summer of 1985 after a national search.

At the University, he earned a Merit Award and was a member of the team that won an Innovation Award. Both awards recognize outstanding achievement, creativity and contributions to the campus community.

Bob also won a national award for a cover of the University of Delaware Magazine, as well as awards for his photography from the Advertising Club of Delaware, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and several other professional organizations.

His personnel file overflows with letters from colleagues, extending thanks, admiration and best wishes, acknowledging Bob's talent for photography, his whimsy and creativity and the enormous joy he brought to his work and most particularly to them.

Memorial contributions on campus can be made toward a plaque near a bench on the Mall and inclusion in the Diamond Walkway near Old College. Checks–payable to the University of Delaware, with a notation, "In memory of Robert Cohen"–may be sent to the Office of University Development, Academy Building. The family also suggests gifts can be made to the March of Dimes, Delaware Chapter, or to Newark Parks and Recreation.

Photos from the heart

A 12-page booklet celebrating the photography of Robert Cohen will be available soon.

To receive a copy, please contact the Office of Public Relations at 831-2791 or e-mail [PublicRelations@ udel.edu].