In Memory of Fran Cohen

It was a love that endured from the time they were five and six years old, having met on the playground of their elementary school. Gerald and Fran Cohen savored life together — he as an attorney, she as an occupational therapist and advocate for those with disabilities. Fran, a 1951 alumna of the Program in Occupational Therapy and former research assistant and faculty member, made it her mission to keep herself active and encourage others to engage in life.

“We were married for 58 years and she was my best friend and companion,” says Gerald. “She was proud to be an occupational therapist. She was innovative, imaginative, and way before her time in how she cared for and helped others.”

Diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer of the soft tissues, Fran passed away in July 2012 at the age of 83. To honor her life and accomplishments, Gerald established the Fran Cohen Endowed Student Award Fund in Occupational Therapy. The award, which includes a monetary stipend and a certificate, is given to a graduating occupational therapy student who has demonstrated leadership and creativity in applying occupational therapy knowledge to people with disabilities. Candidates also must show promise in the areas of community health and community service. Gerald presented the first award to Joe Brey, OTD ‘13, during graduation ceremonies on May 17.

“Fran Cohen has had a presence in our Program for many years. She was a teacher, a research coordinator and colleague. Now with the love and generosity of her husband, her spirit will be with our Program and our students forever,” says Program Executive Director Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA.

After graduating from the Program in Occupational Therapy, Fran worked at Firmin Desloge Hospital (now Saint Louis University Hospital). There, she took over part of the rooftop to plant a raised vegetable and flower garden for occupational therapy patients. She later helped residents with disabilities in both public and private nursing homes to obtain their GEDs.

In 1996, she co-founded the DisAbility Project, an acting troupe that featured actors with and without wheelchairs. To date, the troupe has played before more than 80,000 people. “She worked for more than 60 years of her life and we raised four children,” says Gerald. “She was active up until the month before she died, even talking about obtaining her doctorate degree in her late 70s before she was diagnosed with the cancer.”

“She thought that occupational therapy was the greatest profession and that the Program in Occupational Therapy was the best occupational therapy school in the country,” he adds. “That’s why I wanted to honor her by creating this student award. I want her energy, optimism, innovation and passion for life to be remembered.”

If you would like to honor Fran Cohen’s life and make a contribution to the Fran Cohen Endowed Student Award Fund, please contact Paul Schnabel, Director of Medical Development, at 314.935.9725 or by email at  [email protected].

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