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Libby Okun Cohen Obituary

Libby Okun Cohen Libby Okun Cohen passed away peacefully at her long-time home in Charlottesville on Wednesday, February 13, 2013. At her bedside was her beloved husband, Ralph, with whom she shared a devoted marriage of more than 70 years. She is also survived by her loving daughter and son-in-law, Ruth Cohen Morris and David B. Morris of Charlottesville; and by her loving son and daughter-in-law, David Cohen and Mary Cohen of Charlottesville. She was predeceased by her parents; and a brother, Modick Okun. Libby Okun was born in St. Petersburg on July 11, 1913. Due to persecution, the family emigrated to Vilna-now Vilnius-early in her life and afterward emigrated to Toronto. In the late 1930s, while serving as a counselor at a Jewish youth camp in New York, she fell head over heels in love with Ralph Cohen, a fellow counselor at the camp. Although her mother predicted the marriage would not last because Ralph was too smart for her, Libby was too smart to listen. Ruth and David were born during the War. In 1952, after Ralph had graduated from CCNY and received his doctorate from Columbia University, the young family moved to Los Angeles where Ralph had been offered a position in the English Department at UCLA. While living in Los Angeles, Libby made new friends, nurtured the growing children, and entered graduate school to become a librarian. She then spent several years as Reference Librarian and Library Instruction Coordinator at California State University, Northridge. After 15 years in Los Angeles, Ralph and Libby moved to Charlottesville in 1967, where Ralph, by then a distinguished eighteenth-century scholar, had been hired in the English Department at the University of Virginia. Here, as he initiated an innovative journal, New Literary History, Libby, with the approval of headmaster John Howard, created a library at Tandem-now Tandem Friends-School, where she served as a member of the faculty and as Librarian from 1970 to 1986. Early on, under Libby's direction, a Student Library Committee was established as part of the student government, a committee that provided the school with monthly cultural events, inventive programs, and outside speakers. Under her inspired and challenging guidance the multifaceted library generated unprecedented dialogue and quickly became known as "Tandem's cultural center." Libby indicated her unconventional aim in a 1987 presentation to the Virginia Library Association: "I came to Tandem, and to librarianship in general, with a strong educational bias. I always urged students who used the library to become conscious of the potentiality of their library life." When the school relocated to its current site, the Libby O. Cohen Library was dedicated in her honor. Libby was the singing Malka at Cohen Seders, annual co-editor of the Cohen Haggadah, and instigator of the Cohen Kibbutz, a close if increasingly far-flung international community of friends and former students that touched many lives. After retiring from Tandem, she organized and helped build the multicultural library at the University's Sundberg International Center, where she served as Librarian. Among Libby's many educational contributions, she prepared, with the assistance of her friend Connie Bullock, a comprehensive Index to Volumes 1-10 for New Literary History-published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Libby was proud that her daughter had completed a doctorate in Information and Library Science at the University of Michigan, thereby initiating her career as a distinguished librarian. Strong, outspoken, and inquisitive, Libby was verbally gifted and relished speaking many languages, especially her native Russian, and she translated with great care a number of manuscripts from Yiddish into English. She was a frequent companion in Ralph's classes and at his speaking engagements around the world, intent both on supporting her husband (sometimes interpreting for him) and on continuing her transactional education. Her love for ballet and the theatre elevated London in her worldly esteem, and there she and Ralph spent many exhilarating summer months negotiating among plays, dance, and the British Museum. Though occasionally teased by family and friends as being a "hasty pudding," she procrastinated until her 99th year before publishing her children's story, "All That Glitters Isn't Gold," in the November 2012 issue of Cricket. In her honor and in recognition of her long-standing commitment to creative education, the Libby Okun Cohen Chair in technological humanism will be established at James Madison University, where her husband now teaches and where part of his extensive library is collected. Libby's family and friends deeply appreciate Dolores Goins for her selfless, loving care over the last few years of Libby's life, Odell Franklin for her extraordinary after-hours attention during the past few months, and Hospice of the Piedmont for thoughtful assistance. Hill and Wood Funeral Home is handling funeral arrangements, and interment will be at the Hebrew Cemetery in Charlottesville.

This obituary was originally published in the Daily Progress.
Read Full Obituary for Libby Cohen
Published online on February 14, 2013 courtesy of Daily Progress.

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