Obit: UWindsor scientist ‘adventurous, aggressive’ in dementia research

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Jerry Cohen, July 4, 1942-May 30, 2024

Even into retirement, longtime University of Windsor psychology professor Jerry Cohen never ceased his innovative research into Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“I’ll remember Jerry for his enthusiasm and for being aggressive,” said fellow researcher and chemistry/biochemistry professor Dr. Siyaram Pandey.

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“He was a very adventurous scientist.”

Cohen, who retired in 2022, passed away May 30 in London from complications following heart surgery earlier this spring. He was 81.

“He’d get angry when we didn’t get a grant for this project, and the rest of us, we’d think, ‘I’m not sure we can do this,’ but Jerry refused to even think of giving up,” Pandey recalls.

“He knew there was something important in what we were working on. That’s why it was so wonderful in April at Research Day for the Alzheimer’s Society (of Windsor Essex) that we were able to present the promising results that he was right.”

Cohen and Pandey worked together on projects targeting Alzheimer’s for the past 20 years, and their combined efforts produced a compound using an herb extract from the Ashwagandha shrub native to Asia and Africa that has led to promising results in inhibiting the advance of the disease.

Even into retirement, longtime University of Windsor psychology professor Jerry Cohen never ceased his innovative research into Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Photo by Courtesy of Cohen family /Windsor Star

A service will be held June 14 at 11 a.m. at Families First funeral home in Amherstburg.

“Our dad just liked people,” said Dena Britton, one of Cohen’s two daughters. “He had a warmth for people that was transcendent.

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“The people who knew my dad, whether for a long or short period, felt like he really cared about them.”

Growing up in Freeport, a village on Long Island just east of New York City, Cohen joined the University of Windsor as a psychology professor in 1968. Cohen had a focus on behavioural and neurological science.

He also gained a reputation as a popular professor, who wasn’t hung up on stuffy traditions.

“My dad was the quintessential absent-minded professor,” joked daughter Cheryl Cohen. “He was very focused on his subject.

“I’ll remember him for his sense of humour. He had a very funny and unique personality.”

Cohen also had a sharp mind and the stubborn streak of determination needed to conduct the years-long research projects he was engaged in on alcohol abuse, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

Pandey said Cohen’s determination, connections and generosity were used to great effect to secure funding for their research. That included donating $100,000 of his own money to the project.

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Alzheimer’s Society of Windsor Essex CEO Sally Bennett Olczak, who worked with Cohen for 15 years, said the richness of Cohen’s contributions extends beyond his research and dedication to his students.

“He demonstrated that he was an incredible caregiver when his wife Anne was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” Olczak said. “It was such a cruel twist.

“He cared for her at home, with supports, for 15 to 17 years and she passed away peacefully there in March 2023.

“That’s when Jerry really showed his mettle as a great person. He looked at the glass half full because he viewed it as blessing to meet all these wonderful people in the Alzheimer’s support, education and day programs because they’d been on this dementia journey.”

Cohen had remarried in 2003 after his second wife, then-Liberal MP Shaughnessy Cohen, whom he married in 1971, passed away suddenly in 1998 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in the House of Commons. Cohen had his daughters with first wife Joy Wasserman.

Cohen’s passion for teaching and seeing his students succeed was a familiar topic in any conversation.

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University of Windsor psychology professor Jerry Cohen had a passion for teaching and seeing his students succeed. Photo by Image courtesy Cohen family /Windsor Star

Olczak recalls a story shared with her by one of Cohen’s former students, who is now approaching her 50s. She was a single mom with a three-year-old son, and rather than see her miss his statistics class when she occasionally couldn’t get child care, Cohen allowed her to bring the boy to sit in the front row with her.

“She told me Jerry engaged the boy during class by asking him questions,” Olczak said. For his fourth birthday, the son got to see the mice in Jerry’s research lab: “Jerry invited him into the lab, (then) took him to Burger King and got him a crown.

“Jerry loved life and he had such a wonderful energy and I miss him dearly.”

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