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Obituary: Hirsh Cohen

Jan. 04, 2021
Category: Obituary

Hirsh Cohen, born October 6, 1925, died peacefully in his sleep on December 20, 2020, age 95.  Born in St Paul MN Hirsh grew up in Duluth, and then graduated from Washington High School in Milwaukee WI in 1942. He started college at University of Wisconsin, Madison, then served 2 years in the US Navy, and graduated from  the University of Wisconsin in 1947 with a degree in mathematics. He then left the Midwest, and home, and attended Brown University where he received a Masters and Phd in applied mathematics in 1950. His academic career led him through the ranks at Penn State, Carnegie Tech and RPI where he was a full professor. In 1959 Hirsh joined the IBM Research Lab in Yorktown NY and worked there for 30 years. He began this career doing basic research and progressed to higher levels of responsibility at the lab, becoming the Director of Lab Operations and Chairman of the Research Review Board. When he retired from IBM in 1990, he immediately began a new career at the Sloan Foundation where he was a grant officer and established academic centers of excellence in various areas, creating multi-university research endeavors in astronomy, neuroscience, and automotive and several other areas. He also was a consultant to the Swartz Foundation on brain research. Hirsh’s scientific contributions  included work on acoustics, vibration theory, hydrodynamics, cavitation, nonlinear differential equations, and superconductivity theory. As his career went forward he developed a strong interest in mathematical biology, working on understanding the propagation of nerve impulses.  One of his foremost administrative gifts was the ability to clearly articulate the relationship between mathematics and other sciences, and to bring a wide array of scientists together to do both basic and applied research.

While his work life was meaningful and fulfilling, Hirsh’s family life was central and cherished. He was married to Gerda for over 60 years. Before embarking on his academic career, Hirsh travelled to Israel to teach at the Technion. On his second day in Haifa, he met Gerda, a Czech refugee, on a blind date. They spent that summer at an Ulpan (hebrew school) in Nahariya and were married March 6, 1952 on Mt Carmel, Haifa.

Their first son Jonathan was born in Haifa. While at RPI  in Albany, and receiving teacher of the year award, Josh was born. After moving to Yorktown to begin his IBM career Judy was born. Hirsh loved to travel, and spent sabbatical years in Holland, Switzerland, and California. While his own roots were in the Midwest he was captivated by his Gerda’s Czech family, and travelled extensively through Europe, learning about her life and holocaust survival story. He was very proud of his 4 grandchildren, Sam, Katy, Rachel and Julianna, and his 2 great grandchildren, Adam and Aida. He passed this love of travel and history on to his grand children and Hirsh and Gerda took Sam, Katy and Rachel on several international adventures complete with fact finding scavenger hunts.

Hirsh was a serious scientist and also a student of literature. He was a member of a monthly book club that met monthly for 40 years, and then continued in a variety of book groups right up to his death. He loved to ski, hike and he enjoyed both classical music and his favorite Cole Porter songs.

Hirsh Cohen was a serious student of life.  He believed in science. His insight and wisdom were also informed by his wide and deep appreciation of both fiction and nonfiction literature. He was smart, compassionate, and soft spoken. But he also spoke with force, he was dependable and he adapted to the numerous changes he encountered in his life. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, colleague and friend to many.

A memorial service will be scheduled.

Donations to honor Hirsh can be made to local food banks in this time of need.

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