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With a new name, auditorium honors late director of Yale’s Child Study Center

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2002 - Autumn


Before he died, Donald J. Cohen, M.D. ’66, the director of the Child Study Center, found warmth and comfort in a quilt made of patches that carried messages from friends, family and colleagues. A gold band runs through the quilt, connecting all the individual squares. “Donald is the gold band that continues to bring so many people together,” said Deirdre Stowe, a friend who made the quilt, as it was unveiled at the dedication of the Donald J. Cohen Auditorium at the Child Study Center.

Cohen, who died last October 2 of cancer at age 61, was honored at the June 19 dedication by several people who knew, loved and worked with him during his 18 years as director of the center. Yale President Richard C. Levin recalled giving a speech in the same room three years earlier at the dedication of the Irving and Neison Harris Building. “I was not the least bit surprised as we planned the dedication that he went about it with his meticulous attention to detail. He left absolutely nothing to chance,” Levin said. To laughter from the audience, he added, “He insisted on writing my speech. I took no risk. I delivered it as written.”

Levin and others remembered Cohen as a pre-eminent scientist and clinician, a man of broad interests and one who cared about others. “We have all benefited, especially children,” said Rev. Frederick J. Streets, the university chaplain, “from the depth of his intellect and the breadth of his spirit and kindness.”

The dedication came just a few days before the death of Cohen’s mentor and predecessor, Albert J. Solnit, M.D., HS ’52, following an automobile accident on June 21 (See In Memoriam). Solnit was director of the center from 1966 to 1983, when Cohen was appointed to succeed him.

When the Child Study Center’s new building opened three years ago, it and the auditorium were named in honor of Irving and Neison Harris, longtime supporters of the center. Neison Harris died earlier this year and his brother Irving suggested that the auditorium bear Cohen’s name. “Donald really made a huge contribution to Yale and I would like to see him recognized in any way possible,” Harris said in a telephone interview.

Dean David A. Kessler, M.D., recalled that Cohen saw the auditorium as a place where people would meet and pass on knowledge to the next generation. “In this auditorium,” Kessler said, “we shall hold close our memories of Donald, sustain his values for learning and service and carry out his vision for children and their families.”