In Memory of Carla Cohen - Comments by Mark Furstenberg

       I wasn't prepared for Carla to die.  She wasn't either.  She assumed that she would live to 100 -- and why shouldn't she have thought that?  There is her mother, 100 years old. 

       Our family doesn't like illness.   Carla didn't.  And dying at 74, she was robbed.  I know when I say this that this is our family's perspective. 

       Carla was the oldest of six children and I didn't know her for the first two years of her life.  Even so I believe I am something of an authority. 

       I remember in 1947 listening in her bedroom on her radio to my first World Series games trying to withstand her criticism of me for favoring the Yankees. 

       I suspect that Carla who didn't care about baseball at all was listening to the World Series only because it was Jackie Robinson's first season.  That's  why she was rooting for the Dodgers probably -- and that's what she was irritated by me, the uncomprehending Yankee fan. 

       Values!  It was race that got her attention at eleven years old in southern, segregated Baltimore.

       Our family was all values and Carla became quite early in life an advocate of those values. 


       It wasn't easy for her to be assertive in our family.  That was my father's job.  But Carla was smart and opinionated and independent. 

       She expected at a very early age to be included in adult activities.  Frank and I could amuse ourselves with erector sets and crystal radio kits.  Carla, on the other hand, was reading books and demanding to be included in political discussions.

       There were ADA chapter meetings in our living room.  And Carla sat on a sofa at the back of that room and, to my father's distress, joined the discussions.  Banished by him for her outspokenness, she sat at the top of the staircase to the living room, silenced but still listening to the politics. 

       Frank and I tormented her and tried to draw her away.  We threatened to tell Dad that she was there -- but she wouldn't be deterred.  She wanted to be among the adults and be respected.

       Carla was way ahead of her time.  She was well-informed and opinionated.  My father was proud of her and occasionally embarrassed by her.  He was proud of her brains, her school grades, her reading, her intellectuality.  But although my father was himself ahead of the times, he wished sometimes that she would be a bit more "docile," as he put it.

       Docile Carla was not!  Instead she embraced the family's values robustly. 

       Political activism.  As in campaigning against loyalty oaths in Maryland in 1952 and marching in Birmingham in 1965.

       Being useful to society.  Achieving something of importance.  Being creative.  Being ethical.  Helping people.  Leaving something behind.  She did those things in her career of public service.  And then she found a way to do them that who would have thought of except Carla?


       We didn't have businesspeople in our family but Carla did it.  And she did it in her own way, never sacrificing the values and rarely sacrificing the family directness.  A customer might cringe a little when Carla would greet him with, "Well, I haven't seen you  in a long time."  But then he would smile because she remembered his name.  She always did.

       I remember being surprised -- and I am not Mr. Tact -- on December 24th, in the midst of the store's chaos, how Carla used to answer the phone peremptorily:  "Politics and Prose.  We close at 4 o'clock."   


       Customers are going to miss that.  Who's now going to say to them, "Why would you want to read that book?  It's awful."

       Carla, like my father, was not a patient person.  She loved to quote our old friend Barney Frank:  "Patience is not a virtue; it's a waste of time."


       Carla did not waste her time.

       She told Frank and me one afternoon a few months ago that she was satisfied with what she had accomplished.  Politics and Prose is a monumental achievement for reasons all of us Washingtonians understand. It achieved the impossible, my son Francois thinks.  It brought intellectual life to Washington -- who would have thought such a thing possible, he said.

       Our mother has commanded the devotion of her grandchildren; she in the envy of her old folks' home.  And Carla and I and my other sisters and my brothers had a grandmother who was so important to us. 

       Carla wanted to be that grandmother.  She wanted to be for her grandchildren the Nanie we had, the grandmother who set standards and encouraged refinement and made each of us feel so important.  But Carla wasn't able to do that for much time. 

       It is so sad for us, her siblings.  She was the center in our generation and did for us what she did in the wider Politics and Prose community.

       It's all so sad.  Look around.  Here are her children, her mother, her siblings, her cousins, her nieces and nephews, and of course her loving friends.  It's so sad for all of us.  For her customers.  For the city.  Most of all for David. 

       At the end, Carla was medicated heavily and uncharacteristically uncommunicative.  But she lived on.  That huge heart couldn't stop and that great will wouldn't let go. 

       The end was hard.  One evening just days before she died, David kissed her goodnight.  And, although largely unaware during those days, she kissed him back and through the morphine fog, she said to him, "It was fun."

       It was fun, Carla.  It really was.