Longtime educator, philanthropist Dr. D. Walter Cohen dies
July 13, 2018
— Dr. D. Walter Cohen, a longtime educator and philanthropist, died June 29. He was 91 years old.
In his lifetime, Dr. Cohen would serve as dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, chancellor emeritus of the Drexel University College of Medicine and former president and chancellor of the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
"D. Walter Cohen was one of the few true icons of our era in dentistry," said Dr. Richard Valachovic, president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association. "He moved so easily through his leadership roles as an educator, a practitioner, a researcher and a politician. He was truly global in his impact on our profession and health professions in general. Perhaps most importantly to me, he recognized the value of diversity and inclusion, and enthusiastically created opportunities for those who would lead in the future."
Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Cohen earned his dental degree in 1950 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. In his 35-year career at the dental school, Dr. Cohen helped establish the school's department of periodontics and was its first chairman, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He later became president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1986; and chancellor in 1993.
Dr. Cohen first came to Drexel about 20 years ago when the university took over management of a troubled medical school, according to a message about Dr. Cohen’s death from Drexel President John Fry.
"Many were skeptical, but Walter was squarely behind Drexel from the outset," Mr. Fry said in his statement. "And his faith helped bring many others along. We are so fortunate to have had the benefit of him as a teacher, advisor, mentor and inspiration to generations of students and faculty."
Dr. Cohen also started the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, now at Drexel University, to help young women break the glass ceiling within academic medicine, according to his obituary. Most recently, Dr. Cohen served as chancellor emeritus of Drexel University.
In addition to academic medicine, Mr. Fry said Dr. Cohen was one of the strongest and earliest supporters for the university's school of public health and a health services complex in north Philadelphia to help improve the health of residents in underserved communities.
Dr. Cohen's work was not limited to his home state of Pennsylvania. He established the Dr. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. According to his obituary, Dr. Cohen also received the gold medal from the American Academy of Periodontology; was the third American to earn honorary membership to the British Society of Periodontology; received the Legion of Merit Award from the French government; and earned eight honorary degrees from universities around the world.
"Maybe once in a lifetime are we lucky enough to be friends with a 'light of the world,'" said Elizabeth Dale, executive vice president of Thomas Jefferson University, on Legacy.com. "He was wise, he was thoughtful, he was tireless in improving the lives of others. I will carry his spirit in my heart forever."
Dr. Cohen is survived by his three children, Jane, Joanne and Amy; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.