Obituary: Harris Israel Cohen
Harris Israel Cohen, of Upper Montclair, died peacefully in the company of his beloved wife, Renée, and youngest daughter, Julie, on March 10, 2021. He was 95.
The son of Mary and Bernard Cohen, Mr. Cohen was born and raised in Boston — a point of pride that was evidenced in his enduring Boston accent and his long-suffering love affair with the Boston Red Sox.
A precocious child with a head full of red hair, he was known to get in a row or two with his older brother Joel but always feigned innocence. Due to his high-spiritedness and family financial and health issues, he skipped two grades during his schooling, resulting in graduation from Boston Latin School at age 15.
Mr. Cohen began his college education studying business at Boston University, but soon joined the U.S. Navy to do his part in World War II. He was transferred first to Harvard College for the V-12 program, then to Midshipmen’s School at Columbia University, and became an ensign in 1944.
From 1945 to 1946 he served in the Pacific Theater onboard the USS Topeka. He returned to Harvard to finish his A.B. degree, and went on to earn an M.B.A. at the University of Michigan, developing a case of Wolverine fever (Go Blue!) that also afflicted his youngest and her children.
The call of the business world and the excitement of city life lured Mr. Cohen to Manhattan. The N.Y.C. skyline inspired him to try his hand at painting, a hobby he would revisit on and off throughout his life. Being an ardent sports fan, he scored N.Y. Giants season tickets when they were still playing at the Polo Grounds and later launched a Super Bowl party tradition that lasted for many years.
One day a couple of friends came up with the happy idea of fixing him up with a beautiful raven-haired nurse named Renée. They married in 1961 and kept “renewing the contract” for nearly 60 years. With two children and a third on the way, they moved to Upper Montclair, which Mr. Cohen would call home for the rest of his life.
After a career in the linen business, he eventually became president and chairman of Greyhound Temporary Personnel and, later, a mergers and acquisitions consultant to the temporary help industry.
More importantly to him, Mr. Cohen began to volunteer around town and serve on nonprofit boards for many causes he cared deeply about. He served at various times on the boards of HomeCorp, the Montclair Counseling Center, United Way North Essex, West Essex Rehabilitation Center, Montclair Red Cross, Senior Care and Activities Center and Green Hill.
Always one to support the interests of others, he served as a behind-the-scenes support and champion of Renee’s volunteer activities with the Montclair Volunteer Ambulance unit. His service and stewardship helped build new facilities and bring comfort and care to countless seniors.
Mr. Cohen indulged in a few hobbies to express his creativity and love of collecting. He enjoyed ikebana-inspired dried-flower arranging, polishing stones, collecting (from Sanibel Island, Florida, a favorite travel spot of his) and displaying seashells, as well as cactuses, fossils and minerals.
He loved posting photos of Renée’s orchids on Facebook and counting all the comments, and together they joined the Ramapo and North Jersey orchid societies. He was an avid reader and dedicated crossword-puzzler, and had a head for cards, especially cribbage and bridge.
Mr. Cohen also loved tennis and was notorious on the court for his wicked backspin. He and his wife traveled throughout the U.S. and made several memorable trips abroad to Africa, Chile and Europe.
Family and friendships, however, were truly his lifeline. He was an adoring husband, a doting father, father-in-law and grandfather. When his kids were little, he painted their portraits, and then his grandchildren’s. He loved showing off his family's accomplishments and cherished the opportunity to visit his grandkids’ elementary school to share presentations about his fossils and minerals. He was an annual guest at their Veteran’s Day celebrations.
At every stage of life, in every activity he pursued, he had a knack for making new friends and loved spending time with people of all ages, especially if a nosh was involved. He never shied away from sharing a story, a joke, his wise counsel, or his strong opinion.
He will be remembered fondly as a man of warmth and integrity, dedicated to family, friends, country and community. He lived a happy life, full of good humor and love.
Mr. Cohen is survived by his wife, Renée; brother, Joel Cohen; children, Linda Cohen, David Cohen and Julie Mason; brother-in-law, Richard Cole; sons-in-law, Rick Mason and Dave Nardone, and grandchildren, Olivia, Cooper and Kyle Mason.
The family plans to arrange a celebration of life service at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project or any of the local organizations mentioned above.
Arrangements were by Moriarty Funeral Home.