Dr. Paul S. Cohen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Rhode Island, passed away suddenly yet peacefully in the early hours Sunday morning. He spent his entire career, starting in1966, as a devoted Professor of Molecular Biology at URI, until his retirement in 2015, at which point he took on Emeritus status. In 2013, he was honored as the first inductee into the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences Hall of Fame. Other than his family, there was little he loved more than his work and the scientific community he developed at the University and with colleagues all over the world.
A native of Boston, he grew up in Newton MA and attended Newton HS. He obtained an undergraduate degree at Brandeis University, completing his Doctor of Philosophy degree at Boston University. After having done post-doctoral work for a year at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital he sought return to the city. He settled into his position at the University of Rhode Island, a move designed to be only a temporary stop on the way back north to his city of origin. However, he grew to love his new hometown and its environs and people, and after more than 50 years, he still remained happily in southern Rhode Island.
Dr. Cohen frustrated many a student over the years. When they came to him seeking answers, instead of giving the solutions, he posed questions encouraging them to use the knowledge he had taught them to solve the problems he posed.
He was beloved among his students internationally and renowned for his work in his chosen field. He would often muse that he was among the lucky 1 percent of workers in the world who actually “loved” what he did for work.
He was famously humble and well-liked by everyone. He was not motivated by wealth or material possessions. He was recently described by a former graduate student as a “one pair of shoes kind of guy”.
Despite his exceptional talent, he didn’t seek acknowledgment, nor did he need or want formal recognition or accolades. Though often revered in his field, he treated all who shared his passion as equals. He led a full and impactful life. He will be missed by many.
He is survived by his adoring wife, Cathy, whom he cherished, his loving brother and best friend, Mark Cohen, his sons, Matt and Dan Cohen, his daughter, Allison Cohen O’Brien, and his grandchildren, Madeline and Charlie O’Brien and Quinn and Max Cohen.