In service to his community Attorney and civic activist Harry Cohen retires from law practice at 89 years young
Attorney and civic activist Harry Cohen retires from law practice at 89 years young
The New Milford lawyer is a community icon, a native son who has made his mark in so many ways in his hometown.
Now, after 64 years of practicing law in Litchfield County, attorney Harry Cohen, 89, is retiring.
A 1938 graduate of New Milford High School, Mr. Cohen started his legal practice in the town in 1946.
"It was a quaint town in those years," Mr. Cohen recalled. "We had a more lively town center with three grocery stores."
"When I was 16, I worked at the A & P on Railroad Street," he said. "I feel very fondly toward New Milford, fond of the people who have always been friendly and outgoing."
As an attorney, Mr. Cohen quickly gained a reputation for taking on cases that other lawyers might have turned down.
Now retired attorney Henry "Hank" Anderson, 91, started his practice in New Milford in 1947. He knew Mr. Cohen both as a member of the small community of attorneys in town -- some seven in those early years -- and a formidable opponent in a legal battle.
"I met Harry soon after coming to town," Mr. Anderson recalled. "He could be just as nice as could be but he was a dedicated attorney when it came to representing his client. He was tough to come up against."
Mr. Anderson noted Mr. Cohen was highly regarded in town for his legal acumen.
"I know he took a lot of clients who might not otherwise have been able to get an attorney and was as strong a representative for them as he would be for someone with money," Mr. Anderson said.
A devout practitioner of the Jewish faith, Mr. Cohen remembers with pride his mother teaching him to read in Hebrew as a young boy.
"My mother was an Orthodox Jew," Mr. Cohen recalled. "Our sabbath began on Fridays in our home. We would light the candles and bless the wine and bread."
As a young man, he attended services in the homes of other Jews in the town. Then a small group of a few dozen faithful, by the 1950s, they were invited to meet for Friday night services in the Fellowship Room at the First Congregational Church on the the Village Green.
The Rev. A. Russell Ayre, now 85 and long retired, remembers those years as offering the "most wonderful opportunity" for members of his church and members of Mr. Cohen's faith to come together in celebration of each faith's holy days.
"Harry is a deeply religious man and sincerely interested in the community," the Rev. Ayre said. "He was always thinking about what the community needed, what he could do for the community. And he knew the Jewish people needed to have a place to come together in their faith."
That awareness led Mr. Cohen, the late Merrill Golden and Murray Kessler, among others, to raise the funds to build Temple Sholom on Route 7. The temple opened its doors in 1971.
There, Mr. Cohen served as president for a community of some 100 Jews in town.
"Harry was quite a politician in the best sense of the word," the Rev. Ayre said, of Mr. Cohen's work to bring the temple about. "He worked for people. He was always trying to do what was best for people and that's hard to come by now."
During the early years of his lifetime of community activism, Mr. Cohen and his wife, Frances Sperling Cohen, who died in 1985, teamed in the 1950s and '60s to raise three sons, Charles, David and Jerome.
Mr. Cohen's commitment to the community soon extended to fostering the arts.
"We first met on the bandstand on the Green," Mr. Cohen recalled. "Our first office was in the Nicholas Candy Shop on Bank Street. Later, we convinced the town to purchase the old SNET building on Church Street to house the activities of the center."
Later on, the Community Center would evolve into the New Milford Parks & Recreation Department.
By 1973, Mr. Cohen was helping to found The Little Theater in the former Advent Church on Brookside Avenue. An avowed aficionado of theater, he obtained an interest-free loan from New Milford Savings Bank to purchase the property.
Eventually to morph into the regionally acclaimed TheatreWorks, the Little Theater New Milford provided a home for productions in which Mr. Cohen has long since taken part.
From taking promotional photographs to acting, including a role in "Finian's Rainbow" in 1958, his name has long been linked to theater in the town.
"I guess you could say, I was involved in keeping the arts alive in the community," Mr. Cohen said. "We brought in a lot of national performing artists. I remember when we brought the Boston Symphony to town."
Whether serving as president of the New Milford Chamber of Commerce, serving as founder and president for a school of photography, or obtaining a grant from the HarCourt Foundation to establish Literacy on The Green, Mr. Cohen has kept his hand active in the community over the years.
In 2009, he was honored, along with other veterans, for his service in World War II by state Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.