I met Rick Cohen in Russian class at Boston University in September of 1968. He was funny, terribly intelligent, and always willing to help others. I liked him immediately.
As we got to know each other, Rick introduced me and my roommate, Cynthia, to a large group of his friends; he was a local kid from Winthrop, and he knew his way around the City. Through Rick, we were invited to parties at Harvard, to hang out at his apartment, and to take the occasional road trip.
Above is a June, 1969 photo of Rick and another of our friends, Tom Pannesi, loading beer into the car on the way to Pennsylvania. We were making a trip to the Poconos, where Cynthia’s family had a Summer home, to visit for a few days. We had stopped in New York for lunch and, apparently, to stock up on liquid refreshments. I remember it was a scorching hot Summer day, and the part of the New York Thruway we travelled was bumper to bumper traffic. We had no air conditioner in the car, so we were pretty hot and thirsty by the time we reached a restaurant. After burgers, and a pitcher of beer consumed quickly, things started looking up. With windows rolled down, we headed back to the highway on a side road above the Thruway. After several minutes, Tom and I looked at the road below and realized what was happening. We both shouted” Rick, we’re going the wrong way!” Rick laughed, and shouted back “Yeah, but we’re making great time!”. I laughed until my sides hurt.
During the following year there was a lot of turmoil on campus. Those of us who were protesting the Viet Nam War were involved in marches, rallies, and strikes. Through all of this time, Rick was my solid g0-to person for information, support, and to check where I stood on issues. He and I were always aligned in our politics and sympathies. We marched, protested, and worked together on what we believed was critically important. When nothing made sense, we had to talk it out and find our ground ; if we were to go forward with what we saw as our essential conscience intact, we had to find Reason. Rick was always a source of Reason and stability. His mind was that sharp, and his sensibilities that strong.
In the Spring of 1970, Rick and I, along with 120 others, were living in the “Strike Dorm” after Kent State’s tragic events. It was a grueling, exhausting time, and we decided to take a break. We needed a couple days away from all the intense negotiations, information overload, and general chaos of the dorm. With five or six others, we headed for Portland to visit my family for a couple days; we thought hanging out by the ocean would clear our heads and soothe our spirits enough to enable us to continue the work we were doing.
We had barely arrived when a close friend of mine, Mike Schwartz, came to see me. He was involved on his campus with efforts to pull together some timely response to the strike events, and asked us to come and speak to a group of U. Maine students. I remember Rick looking at me with a grin, and reading his mind. Of course we would go. Of course we would speak to them. I don’t remember what we said; I don’t know if we helped them or made a difference. All I remember is the kind of commitment that Rick had, and the generosity of his spirit.
The following Winter, Rick and I became flat mates in a three bedroom apartment with another female friend, Leni Goldman. We used to joke about our names on the small metal mailbox in the front of the building: Cohen, Goldman, and Beardsley. We thought it sounded like a law firm. The apartment was typical of the student ghetto area, complete with broken appliances and more cock roaches than you could ever count. But Rick was a good roommate; he was responsible, helpful , and tolerant. There were many nights filled with great music (Rick had a passion for Jeff Beck and the Airplane), laughter, lots of friends, and food.
I got married the following year, moved to California, and eventually lost contact with Rick. I found him, decades later, with the help of the Internet. He was writing and working in Washington when I called him. We chatted for a while, and caught up with the larger details of lives that have been distanced by time and space. He seemed deeply involved with his work and generally happy with his life. I was glad to know things had gone well for my old pal, and that he remained the highly principled and intensely committed man he had always been.
I just found out that Rick passed away last Fall. The flood of memories was somewhat overwhelming, as I continued to think of those long ago days. I know that sometimes nostalgia plays a part in our perceptions of our youthful trials and tribulations. I know that sometimes we can romanticize times, places, and people when we look back. But I know this: Rick Cohen was a man who stood up for his beliefs, and never backed down. He was a good friend. Rick was someone you wanted in your corner. I was lucky he was in mine.