Today I am very sad, grieving over the loss of one of the most special people I have ever known…my orthodontist, Dr. Gary Cohen. Dr. Cohen and his wife Nancy were returning to their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee from a vacation in Destin, Florida on Monday, September 17, 2012. Dr. Cohen, also a pilot, was flying a private plane. From the stories, it seems he encountered severe weather over Alabama and made a distress call and then later a mayday call before losing communication. The plan went down near Jasper, Alabama on Monday, and both were killed. It was a sad day not only for his family, friends and patients, but also for an entire community who loved him. The death of the Cohen’s has been reported in many states including, TN, AL, FL and AR, but the reports were not just about a plane crash but about the loss of a great man and the impact his death has had on so many. One reporter referred to him as “a shepherd to the community.” And that, he was.
I was in Hendersonville, Tennessee on Wednesday morning eating breakfast at my father’s house before returning home to Louisiana. That is when I first heard of Dr. Cohen’s death. I was only half listening to the
television news playing in the background when I heard my father say, “Dr. Cohen” and then “plane crash” and I looked at the screen and saw a picture of his smiling face with his wife Nancy. I was in shock and asked if he was alive. When I realized he had died, I had to leave the room to cry and have been crying for days now. Never has a non-family member affected me this way. But Dr. Cohen was the kind of person that made you feel like “all is right with the world.” To think of him being gone is just devastating. It almost feels like he should be here to comfort everyone in their grief.
The funeral was today at my old church, First Baptist Church of Hendersonville. Although I could not be there, I felt compelled to write a tribute to his life since he has impacted my life so deeply. It is a small offering, but it is something I can do. Maybe my words will be read by a family member or someone who is also grieving over his death and will provide comfort, knowing how widespread his influence was. Or maybe someone who has never met Dr. Cohen, will find inspiration for their own life from this wonderful, Godly man. My prayer is that people will be drawn to Jesus Christ because of the testimony of his life. Unfortunately, many Christians hinder the faith with their hypocrisy—people who talk about their faith but don’t live it. Quite the contrary, Dr. Cohen was a true reflection of Christ. He didn’t have to preach, he just lived his faith in everyday life.
Any words I can use to describe Gary Cohen have been said before by many others: effervescent, magnetic, caring, unselfish, Christ-like, and a “one in a million” person. He is all of that. When I think through all the people I have ever met in my life, I realize that he is in my “Top 3” list. It is the magnetic quality he had that I will miss the most…a quality that very few people have. Being in the entertainment business, I’ve met plenty of people with lots of sparkle and attraction, but I do not find that quality accompanied with the same warm, sincere, caring spirit that Dr. Cohen possessed. Oh, what a tragedy. He was the kind of person who made you happy just to LOOK at him. He was always smiling.
Check out this out to see the fun-loving guy he was: Dr. Gary Cohen plays ukulele
I got braces as an adult and wore them for at least three years. I remember falling in love with Dr. Cohen from the first time I met him….and my whole family felt the same. I have always had a major phobia of dentists and an orthodontist was not much better. But I truly looked forward to every visit to see Dr. Cohen. He was always cheerful and cared so much about his patients. He would ask about my life as I sat in his chair…following my journey to college, meeting the man I would eventually marry, and my move to Louisiana. I remember before I made the decision to get braces, I asked him what I would do if I decided to get married before I got them off. (I had just met Neill so I was sort of thinking ahead!) He told me that if that happened, he would take my braces off and put them back on as a wedding present to me. Well, I did get married before the end of my tenure with braces; however, I made the decision that I wanted to get married in braces since that was who I was at that point in my life. I paid for my own braces so I treasured the opportunity to wear them. I loved them (well, not the poking wires and aching teeth, but it was all par for the course and I never complained) and everything about the experience was pleasant—from the visits to Dr. Cohen’s office to my metal smile that made me feel like a teenager when I was so NOT a teenager.
Even when I got my braces off, I continued to wear my retainer to protect the smile I worked so hard for and continue to do so to this day. I would periodically go back to visit Dr. Cohen to have my retainer checked. My last visit was less than a year ago. My dentist had recommended a bite guard for my teeth since I grind at night. Dr. Cohen made an adjustment to my retainer for a nominal charge ($10, I think!) that saved me from having to invest many hundreds of dollars in a bite guard….another example of his kindness. In my visits over the last few years, I shared with him about my entertainment career and he was so proud of me. He asked me to bring my headshot so he could display it. It makes me so happy to know he was proud of me because he was such an important person in my life. Neither of us knew when I first got braces that I would later be in front of a camera on a regular basis. I always think of him fondly when I see a photo of myself with a toothy grin.
I am grateful to Dr. Cohen, not only for giving me a great smile, but for being my friend and for showing me an example of a Christ-like life that I can follow. His death has shaken me up immensely, but I truly hope that I will never fully recover. I want to be inspired to be better. When I see the impact that his life has had on so many, it makes me re-evaluate my own life. What will people say when I am gone? I would like to live in a way that people could call me a “shepherd of the community” and “the radiation of Jesus Christ” as Dr. Cohen has been referred to. His life will not be forgotten. Like the apostle Paul, he can truly say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)