Herbert I. Cohen

Nov. 20, 1924 - Jan. 8, 2014

       Herbert I. Cohen, a New York City physician who was an early advocate for those later diagnosed with H.I.V., and a longtime summer resident of Amagansett, died in Manhattan on Jan. 8. He was 89, and had been ill for six months.

       A former co-chairman of the East End Gay Organization and host of the group’s annual Memorial Day gathering at his Amagansett house, he helped to build other advocacy organizations, such as the L.G.B.T. Community Center and SAGE, or Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders, where he served on the executive board from 2001 to 2008. Dr. Cohen also served on the board of Empire State Pride Agenda.

       Dr. Cohen served as chief of the pediatric allergy department at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and was highly regarded by patients, their families, and his colleagues, said a friend and colleague, Dr. Louis Cooper, the director of pediatrics at the hospital. 

       He was a role model and teacher for residents and clinicians, Dr. Cooper said, and as the first openly gay pediatrician in his department, became a mentor for younger doctors who were still closeted, as well as an advocate for patients with H.I.V., even before the virus was identified.

       Born on Nov. 20, 1924, in Rochester, he earned a bachelor of arts degree at Harvard College and his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1949.

       He was drafted into the Army during World War II, and then after becoming a doctor, enlisted in the Army during the Korean War, serving as a medical officer in Japan from 1952 through 1954.

       Afterward he went into a private pediatric practice in Rochester. He was an attending physician at Babies Hospital of Columbia University (now the Children’s Hospital of New York), and had a private allergy practice in New York City from 1970 to 2011.

       Dr. Cohen became active in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights movement in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when he was in his 50s.  He was “a pioneer on the East End and acted as a magnet who motivated many of us to help raise the L.G.B.T. community profile, improve our rights and acceptance, and generally make the East End a better place for everyone,” said a friend, Brian Craig of East Hampton.

       In October 2008, Mr. Cohen married his longtime partner, Daniel Cook, in Springfield, Mass. The two had been together since 1961. According to a friend, Andy Humm, Mr. Cohen, despite his professional achievements and social contributions, considered his 52-year relationship with Mr. Cook the most important in his life.

       The couple had a house at Devon in Amagansett starting in the early ’70s, and another later in the Bell Estate, into the 1990s.

       Mr. Cook, of New York City, survives Mr. Cohen. Two brothers died before him.

       Mr. Cohen loved having friends around, and to cook and entertain, said Mr. Craig. He also enjoyed dining out.

       Mr. Cohen was buried in Kensico, N.Y. A service was held at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City on Jan. 9, with Mr. Humm presiding. A memorial service will be held in the spring.

       Contributions have been suggested to SAGE, 305 Seventh Avenue, 15th Floor, New York 10001.