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March 2019
Volume 40, Issue 3

A Beloved Mentor, Friend, and True Icon in Dentistry

To honor the life and passing of D. Walter Cohen, DDS, the Founding Editor of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, the journal is featuring a series of tributes from various leading healthcare organizations with which he had a significant relationship. This installment is from the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity.

Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity is an organization that honors its Judaic heritage, provides opportunities to attain professional excellence, and promotes access to oral healthcare for all, with values of integrity, compassion, inclusion, and generosity. As International President of Alpha Omega for 2019, I can't think of a better way to remember D. Walter Cohen, DDS, a giant in dentistry, than through commemorating his alignment with the essence of Alpha Omega.

Dr. Cohen was an avid member of Alpha Omega, as was his father, Abram Cohen, a graduate of University of Pennsylvania, class of 1923, and AO International President, 1937. In 1973, Walter was awarded the Alpha Omega Achievement Medal, the highest honor in our organization.

Walter was one of the few true icons of our era in dentistry, as an educator, practitioner, researcher, and politician. His impact on both the dental and health professions was truly global. Perhaps most importantly to me, he recognized the significance of diversity and inclusion and enthusiastically created opportunities for those who might lead in the future.

One of his many memorable accomplishments was the establishment of the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1997. This center created an exchange program between dental students at Hebrew University and Palestinian students at the Al-Quds School of Dentistry in Jerusalem. I visited this center while on a tour of Hadassah School of Dental Medicine in Jerusalem, and it is an amazing place.

I met Dr. Cohen as dental student in 1993 when I was the AO International Student Representative. A friend of mine who was a student at the University of Pennsylvania introduced me to Dr. Cohen, and I noted that although he was constantly surrounded by students and dentists the entire evening, he took the time to talk to me, and I remember feeling genuinely special after we spoke. I understood at that moment why Penn students loved their program and their school; they had mentors like Dr. Walter Cohen.

I developed a closer relationship with Dr. Cohen just a few years ago on a trip to the University of Pennsylvania. He introduced me to one of his former students, Dan Perkins, CEO of AEGIS Communications, the publisher of Compendium, as well as several of his other students, and a common theme emerged: Dr. Cohen had the remarkable ability to recognize talented professionals and made sure they were able to reach their potential no matter what obstacles were in their way. He understood the value of relationships in school, professionally, and fraternally. He believed in the importance of standing together for a common good and overall goals.

Walter Cohen was an amazing man, and I am honored to have called him a mentor and friend. He will be remembered forever by those he knew and those who knew him, especially our Alpha Omega family.

Steven D. Spitz, DMD

International President, 2019, Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity

Walter's father, Abram Cohen, and my father, Irving Goldstein, were great friends and both past presidents of Alpha Omega. Early in my career my father was referring large complex cases, and he thought I needed to spend time with Walter and Dr. Morton Amsterdam. He, thus, arranged a two-week visit to their offices for observation. My first day there was spent with Walter in surgery, and it was "eye opening." He was doing vestibular resections and advanced periodontal surgery. I had never seen anyone work so fast and so precise, all while being a great teacher.

After he finished multiple surgeries on patients, he said, "We are going to the university to see a great lecture." And he was right. The auditorium was packed, and I was taking it all in. But I kept looking at Walter who was sitting next to me, fast asleep! I didn't want to wake him up because he was clearly exhausted from the day's work. The speaker finished, received a great response from the audience, and then asked if anyone had a question. To my shock, the first hand raised was Walter's and he gave a brilliant review of the lecture and asked a really tough question. That is when I realized D. Walter Cohen was not like us ordinary people.

Walter was one of the most brilliant men I have ever known. He had an amazing capacity to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. His thought processes worked like a supersonic computer that was not even invented yet. His decision-making was legendary, and his advice was spot on. Anytime I called him he would pick up, and as busy as he always was you would never know it because he was so personable.

One time he called me and said he knew I would be at a dental meeting and he wanted 15 minutes of my time. He brought the Dean of the Hebrew University Dental School and the three of us sat on a bench outside the lecture hall. Walter took less than 10 minutes to let me know he wanted me to contribute a sizable amount of funds to establish the Ronald Goldstein Center for Esthetic Dentistry and Clinical Research in his new building at Hebrew University. No one turned down a request from Walter Cohen, no matter how much it cost. I think it may have been one of his fastest solicitations, and he had many during his lifetime.

Few people have had the ability to accomplish really great things in a lifetime like Walter did. His memory and achievements will live on forever.

Ronald E. Goldstein, DDS

Past International President, Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity

D. Walter Cohen was my mentor and friend, and he will never be forgotten.On behalf of his students, friends, and all those who loved and admired him, I offer these words of gratitude with everlasting love and affection: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to learn from you. Thank you for taking the time to show me the necessary skills to provide quality dental healthcare to my patients. And thank you for leading me with confidence into tomorrow, for believing in me, and for having enough faith to share your work, your dreams, and your vision.

I realized that the knowledge I needed to become a competent clinician could be learned anywhere and taught by most anyone. However, the life skills that I needed to go along with that knowledge would have to be imparted by a very unique individual with an extremely special gift for giving and understanding, and that someone was D. Walter Cohen of blessed memory. I'll fondly remember him always.

Allen L. Finkelstein, DDS

Theta Ramach Chapter, Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity

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