It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of David Cohen, who died early Sunday morning. He was 79.
The husband of Carla, who founded P&P, David was a familiar, trusted, and beloved figure to everyone who worked in the store during the last 31 years. David shared Carla’s passion for books, authors, and lively literary and political discussions, and was also a model of humility, civility, and integrity. He devoted his career to promoting the common good as a leading advocate and strategist on many of the major social justice and political reform issues of his time, including civil rights, the Vietnam War, anti-poverty programs, nuclear arms control, trade unionism, political campaign reforms, and government accountability. A former president of the citizens’ lobby Common Cause and co-founder of The Advocacy Institute, David continued well into his 70s advising various social action groups in the United States and around the world on policy, good governance, programming, and civic leadership.
His contributions are recognized in biographies and histories of the period. One reference book on U.S. political parties and elections described David as being “widely regarded as his generation’s leading public interest congressional lobbyist and mentor of lobbyists,” with “an established reputation for balanced judgment, scrupulous dealing, unrelenting patience and a gift for forming legislative coalitions."
Asked in an interview a couple of years ago if he had any regrets about his life, David said no. “I think I’ve been lucky because my whole life I’ve been able to work on things I believe in,” he went on. “I’m proud that I helped make some constructive changes happen and helped block harmful ones from happening. Obviously, you compromise all the time, but I don’t think I’ve ever had to do anything I was ashamed of. And I’ve enjoyed it all—immensely. It’s what John Adams called ‘the public happiness.’”
To the staff members at P&P who knew him, David was a “total mensch,” or in the words of our chief book buyer, Mark Laframboise, a “wise village elder.” Mark recalled that any conversation with David, no matter how short, was a teaching moment. “He presided over more than one staff seder,” Mark added. “It was most evident, though, when he guided all of us through Carla's death in October 2010, reminding us along the way that it was a process of saying goodbye. Now we have to say goodbye to David, remembering the lessons in grace and humanity he leaves us. He was a cool guy and a great friend.”
Barbara Meade, who created and ran P&P along with Carla, said David “was completely supportive of Carla in every way in her work at the store, always available to help but careful never to interfere. He was always alert as our tireless lookout for community and dialogue. Since Carla died, he became a devoted single parent and grandparent with the same caring and love and, as always, abundant offerings of books.”
The two of us got to know David during the sale of the store more than four years ago. He was wonderful to deal with, an endless source of kindness, moral support, and humor. In the years since the sale, he remained a helpful and reassuring presence in the store, often introducing authors and always available to offer his counsel to us. Along with his many friends, fans, and admirers at P&P and throughout the Washington community, we will miss him greatly.
The Cohen family is planning a memorial service for David on Tuesday, at 1 p.m., at Tifereth Israel Congregation at 7701 16th Street NW in Washington, DC.
--Brad and Lissa