Eight Bells: Donald Cohan
Published on November 6th, 2018
Donald S. Cohan died October 20 at the age of 88. He was born in New York City on Feb. 24, 1930 to Dora (Seldin) Smith and Nathan Alan Smith. After Nathan’s premature death, Dora married William Cohan who adopted Donald at a young age.
He graduated cum laude with a bachelor of arts from Amherst College and a legum doctor degree from Harvard Law University. He was a partner at Dilworth, Paxon, Kalish and Kauffman and was known as an authority on wills, trusts and estate law on which he widely published and lectured. Later, he changed careers when he founded the Donesco Company, specializing in real estate development, investment, management and consulting.
Active in many sports throughout his life, sailing became his passion at the age of 35. He represented the United States in over 16 world and Olympic-class championships and was a member of the U.S. sailing team. He was the first Jewish athlete to win an Olympic medal in yachting.
At the Munich 1972 Olympics, the Jewish world froze when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were captured and murdered, and while Jewish non-Israeli athletes were told they wouldn’t have extra protection, Donald carried the Israeli flag on his Dragon enroute to winning the bronze medal for the USA.
Donald served on numerous boards and committees including the Jewish Employment Vocational Services, the North American Friends of Israeli Oceanographic Institute and Amherst College, where he donated the Cohan Dormitory. He particularly enjoyed establishing the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia and serving on the board of governors at the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club for many years.
A true Renaissance man, he was a scholar, an athlete, a debater, a poet, a patron of the arts, a philosopher, a historian and a family man. He was the recipient of numerous awards both personally and professionally, including the Senatorial Medal of Freedom. He battled Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several times and numerous brain meningiomas. His family was proud of his determination against the odds and the elements.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Trina (Polen) Cohan; his children, Rachel Cohan Albert, Benjamin Cohan and Susannah Cohan McQuillan; his sons in law Jonathan Albert and Joe McQuillan, and his grandchildren, Sarah and Jake Albert, Minori and Manna Cohan, Will and Matthew McQuillan and Kara McQuillan and her daughters, Kaya and Sierra Secouler. A memorial service will be determined at a future date. Donations in Donald’s memory can be made to The Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in honor of his dear friend, Dr. John Glick, or to Sail Martha’s Vineyard.