Sadly, Dr. William I. Cohen has passed away. He was not an acquaintance of mine, but I do note his many accomplishments:
Dr. William I. Cohen spent 19 years heading the Down Syndrome Center of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, creating a loving, family-centered environment where parents with developmentally disabled children found unexpected reassurance.
He had titles as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, but his personal touch meant far more. Most of the 2,000 families who have visited the center since its creation in 1989 spent hours with Dr. Cohen.
Dr. Cohen was also an openly gay man, serving on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. I bring this to your attention to acknowledge how tastefully the Post-Gazette incorporated this aspect of his life while focusing on the many, many medical and personal accomplishments of a man who appears to have been devoted to his patients and their families.
While I do question some of the PG's recent “let's be relevant” decisions, including recruiting pep to quasi-blog for free while laying off unionized employees who also seem to be able to write and the atrocious article about the County Ordinance hearing, I must continue to recognize that they do a pretty good job on a day to day basis “covering” gay news. Dr. Cohen's death is a tragedy for his family, which was acknowledged to include his long time partner, but certainly for his patients and their families as well.
Including the whole of his identity among his accomplishments is a perfect illustration of two things. First, there are plenty of accomplished persons who are LGBT and not necessarily headline grabbers because of that fact (he was a physician who happened to be gay). Second and perhaps more nuanced … being out in your workplace can be one of the most brave and powerful ways toward true equality. Certainly. Dr. Cohen was buffered by his class, gender and his professional accomplishments, but that doesn't mean it was necessarily easy to be an openly gay individual within the worlds of UPMC and Pitt. We cannot begin to know the lives he touched and educated about gay issues simply by being authentic.
There are hundreds of Dr. Cohen's around Pittsburgh and, for that, we should all be grateful.
Rest in peace, Dr. Cohen. And thank you.