In Memoriam: Jeffrey Cohen, PhD

Jeffrey Cohen Speaks at 2009 Advancing Ethical Research Conference

The research oversight community recently suffered a huge loss with the passing of Jeffrey Cohen, PhD. Jeff was a beloved member of the PRIM&R community, known for the depth and breadth of his knowledge, his warmth and sense of humor, and his generosity as a teacher and mentor to so many in the field.

Jeff was an invaluable contributor to PRIM&R and its programming in many ways over many years. His contributions included serving as the Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA) president (ARENA is PRIM&R’s former membership arm), being a member of the Council for Certification of IRB Professionals (CCIP), teaching in the PRIM&R At Your Doorstep program, and speaking at many, many PRIM&R conferences. In recognition of these contributions, Jeff received the PRIM&R Arena Legacy Award in 2009.

Jeff was a true founding father of the field of human subjects protections, and exemplified the commitment to ethics, to doing right, that is at its core. He made us all better for knowing him.

Here, we have gathered words from a few members of the PRIM&R community who knew Jeff well. We encourage you to leave your own memories and kind words about Jeff in the comments below.

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Jeff and presenting with him over the years. Jeff was smart, kind, and funny, a pioneer in this world of research ethics and regulation. He always had a smile on his face, a smile that lit up rooms, and a hearty laugh that everyone could recognize. I will always appreciate his vast knowledge and his generosity as a friend and colleague. It is only so appropriate that he was back in the classroom, teaching bioethics, as his last contribution to our field. Jeff, we thank you for all you’ve given this community. You will be missed terribly.”

– Elizabeth Buchanan Ph.D | Director of Office of Research Support Services, Marshfield Clinic Research Institute

“Jeff was the first person I met when I entered the HRPP/IRB world. When he walked on stage and said, ‘I work for the government, and I’m here to help,’ laughter rippled through the room. I quickly learned that Jeff meant that statement from the bottom of his heart. He became my teacher, my mentor, my guide and my friend. How lucky am I to have known him.”

Nancy A. Olson, JD | IRB Administrator, University of Nebraska Medical Center

“Since the 80s I have loved Jeff Cohen but everyone who knew Jeff grew to love him. He was sweet, funny, talented, outstanding educator and mentor. He and I were close friends and he was a joy to be with. It breaks my heart that he is gone. No one can replace my dear friend Jeff.”

Ada Sue Selwitz, MS | Co-Director, Regulatory Knowledge and Support Core, University of Kentucky Center for Clinical and Translational Science

“Let me tell you a story…

In 2000 I met Jeff Cohen following one of his PRIM&R presentations. It was that meeting that set the course for my professional career in compliance culminating with finally having the privilege of working with him. It was an honor to work with my mentor and learned his unique talent of speaking regulations in common sense with a story. He had a story for every aspect of life and the regulations. He was a teacher at heart and loved to share his knowledge in a ‘story’ format that would drive home the point. As a complement to his storytelling was his love for theater that he also managed to fold into his teaching as he would teach me about speaking with cadence, owning the stage, connecting with the audience, and engagement through storytelling. I will miss his storytelling guidance but will reflect forever on the many great memories of learning from him saying ‘let me tell you a story…’.”

Eric Allen | Associate Director, Research Integrity & Compliance, University of South Florida

“I met Jeff in 1999 when I was interviewing for a job at the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). Back in the Koski doin’-it-right-together days of OHRP. It was a kind of funny interview as I look back on it. I was so nervous about. Am I going to get the job? Am I worthy? The usual thing that goes through the heads of women of a certain age. And, what happened instead is that Jeff, Mike and George were all trying to convince me why I should join their team. Jeff presented a compelling case for why I should join the education division; but I was as so afraid at that time about speaking in public, that I chose a position in policy instead.

But, true to the big, open-hearted guy that he was, and even though I was not working in his division, Jeff invited me to participate in OHRP’s educational activities. He encouraged me and coached me; and in doing so, he helped me overcome my fear of public speaking. He helped me find my voice. I often think about how he advocated for and promoted women to think big and to be their best in a world that is often dominated by gender and by terminal degrees.

The last time I saw Jeff was on an Amtrak train. Just a chance meeting. I cannot remember where or why we were travelling that day; but I do remember that we shared photos of our grandchildren. He was so happy and proud.

If I could go back in time to that moment, I would say thank you, Jeff, for believing in me, for helping me find my voice, for just being one of the most generous and caring persons one would hope to know.”

Yvonne Higgins | QA Advisor, WCG IRB

We will miss you.

After taking some time to process the recent passing of Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, we have realized that there are simply no words to describe how everyone here at HRP Consulting Group is feeling with the loss of our colleague, founder and most importantly, our friend. 

As many of you who knew Jeff will agree, he was a pillar in the field of human research protections. His greatest strength was his ability to train and educate in such a unique way that his passion for every aspect of our field would be passed along to those who were in the audience.  

What many of you don’t know is that Cheryl and Jeff go back more than three decades, when Cheryl first started in the field of human research protections in 1989 when Jeff was the Director at the University at Albany.   

As a person, Jeff was kind-hearted and what meant the most to him was family, which was often reflected in his management style.

So, while all of us in the field are mourning the loss of such an expert, here at HRP we are mourning the loss of a friend, family member, and mentor. Jeff will be missed by many, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Cindy, and their children and grandchildren – who we all know, were the most important part of Jeff’s life.

May he rest in peace and ‘May Jeff’s memory be for a blessing’

Cheryl Savini and the team at HRP Consulting Group