Ron Cohen, Women’s Wear Daily’s former longtime city editor and financial editor, died on Nov. 22 at his New York apartment.
Cohen, 93, was under hospice care at the time of his death, which was due to natural causes following pulmonary and respiratory issues, according to his son Laurence Frazen.
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In addition to his 43-year tenure at WWD, which ended in 1999, Cohen worked as an actor and director primarily in community and repertory theater for much of his life. A memorial service for Cohen and his accomplished actress wife Lynn, who died during the pandemic, are being planned for early next year in New York. Although Lynn Cohen played numerous roles in theater, television and in films, many knew her for her role as “Magda,” the Eastern European housekeeper for Cynthia Nixon’s character “Miranda” on HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
WWD’s former editor in chief and a 39-year Fairchild veteran Ed Nardoza said, “Ron was an essential part of some of WWD’s most vibrant and successful newspaper years. He was a great journalist, with sharp analytical skills and a deep understanding of the most arcane business matters. Ron was also an extremely colorful individual, an Off-Broadway actor and director and [had] a literary IQ that was astounding. He often did perceptive theater reviews for the paper. He also had enormous patience, especially toward young journalists, that offset a wry, speedy and often wicked wit.”
Born on the South Side of Chicago, Ron Cohen was one of three children born to Solomon and Sarah Cohen. His brother Burton, who was known as “Buddy,” and his sister Shaney predeceased him. After studying journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Cohen served in the U.S. Air Force, working in communications during the Korean War. His newspaper career started in 1956 as a reporter in the Chicago bureau for the Fairchild News Service. Subsequently, he became bureau chief in Kansas City and then St. Louis. In that latter role, Cohen covered more than a dozen, often unrelated industries, from fashion to retailing to energy to home furnishings to supermarkets. “He was equally adept at them all and could read a balance sheet and see through PR smoke screens like nobody else. He was ultimately imported to New York as city editor for the company’s flagship, WWD,” Nardoza said.
Cohen and his late wife first met at The Barn Repertory Theater, a community theater in Kansas City, and wed in 1964.
She and Cohen moved to New York in 1978 after the Fairchild News Service revealed plans to close the St. Louis bureau and offered Cohen a job in Los Angeles or New York City. The couple decided on the latter largely due to Lynn Cohen’s keenness to devote herself to acting full-time and the many stage opportunities that Manhattan offered. A lifelong supporter of his wife’s career, Cohen’s East Coast move panned out well for the pair. She was in her 40s when she made her Off Broadway debut in 1979 in “Don Juan Comes Back From the War,” and Cohen transferred to New York as a retail reporter for WWD.
During that period, he also found time to review theater and cabaret performances and to write numerous personality profiles for the newspaper on subjects as diverse as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Lena Horne. After a few sublets on the Upper West Side, Lynn Cohen “was able to cajole and sweet talk her way into an apartment at The Belnord in 1978,” Frazen said. Like much of their union, the couple’s address also had remnants of the thespian life. Their apartment building at 86th Street and Broadway is where the series “Only Murders in the Building” is set.
Rising up through the ranks, Cohen was named city editor in 1983, and quarterbacked WWD’s coverage of Seventh Avenue as well as most other subjects found in what was then a daily newspaper. In New York, he “directed the daily, pressure-packed flow of breaking news about Seventh Avenue, the major national retailers and Wall Street. Later, he directed the innumerable and wildly profitable franchise of special reports and deeply reported sections produced by WWD’s journalists,” Nardoza said. “Personally, Ron became my go-to person whenever the newsroom drifted toward absolute chaos, usually on imminent daily deadline, when the faint of heart might easily panic. Ron never panicked, no matter what the circumstances. He was a sound and solid form of refuge with judgement, poise and experience whenever I needed it most.” In February 1998, he added the duties of financial editor.
Wry and even-handed, Cohen was known to keep reporters at his side as he edited their copy fastidiously, explaining the nuances and necessities of every last word. Always in a shirt (with the sleeves rolled up) and a tie — that loosened at the knot as the hours wore on, Cohen seldom left his desk for hours on end. Even-tempered, approachable and wry, the bespectacled Cohen’s longish hair hinted at his off-hours artistic life. Informed as he was about the timelines and specifics of retail mergers and acquistitions, Cohen would just as easily reference the latest John Lahr theater review from The New Yorker magazine.
WWD’s former longtime managing editor Mort Sheinman said Monday, “I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Ron over so many years. I knew him first when he was a reporter in our St. Louis bureau, and later we worked closely together as senior editors. He was a wonderful writer, a meticulous reporter, and a man who never failed to bring out the best in the people whose work he handled. Ron was a consummate professional whose calm demeanor, and whose compassion and sense of humor were appreciated and admired by all of his colleagues. He was a good newspaper man and a real mensch.”
In addition to his acting and directing pursuits, Ron Cohen freelanced movie and theater reviews later in life. He also mentored the cabaret performer Craig Pomeranz, and directed his current show.
Peter Born, former executive editor of beauty at WWD, said, “Ron Cohen led a double life. To the consternation of more than a few young editors, he was meticulous as an editor. He was a stickler to the sanctity of the word. He took his time to get it right.”
Recalling how Cohen was usually the first to arrive in the WWD newsroom and the last one to leave, Born said, “His greatest thrill was not the sight of a well-punctuated page. It was the experience of witnessing a well-acted scene that was driven by a well-turned script. Theater was his joy. It’s where he met Lynn, his beloved and deceased wife, and was what sustained him. His grasp of showbiz lore was encyclopedic. He could talk at length and for hours about all the great stars — their strengths and their foibles.”
“He stood out as a newspaperman in a business not known for Renaissance figures. Even as he grew weaker, less frail and suffered discomfort, he still found the energy to take a Shakespeare class [via Zoom,]” Born said.
“Ron Cohen was a great city editor. He supported his reporters, he took the time to carefully edit our stories, and was always even-keeled in a fast-paced newsroom. He always kept his sense of humor, was really smart and had a good perspective,” added WWD news director Lisa Lockwood.
Former WWD executive editor Bridget Foley recalled Monday when she was a young reporter, Cohen acted as an authoritative senior editor. “In some ways, he played to the old-school rolled-sleeved journalist archetype — exacting editor, sharp wit, ever ready with a wry quip. Yet he had an elegance about him, and an innate gentleness. Instruction via intimidation wasn’t his thing. Ron made you a better journalist without making you quake,” she said.
Describing Cohen as “a classic newsman, a great teacher and mentor,” Dianne Pogoda, a 30-year veteran of WWD and managing editor from 2000 to 2017, said he helped her become a better writer, reporter and editor. “I learned so much from him about the news process, digging deeper for a story, crafting and fine-tuning it. I never saw him lose his temper, and I always came away from his editing having learned something. I’m lucky to have been a part of his team during a golden age for WWD,” Pogoda said.
From Frazen’s perspective, his father “knew more about more things than probably anybody I have ever met. He was kind, compassionate and had an incredible sense of empathy. He was a very, very good person always.” And if Cohen had a motto, that would have been, “Don’t ever judge somebody until you have walked a mile in their shoes,” his son said.
Nardoza added, “As for dedication, Ron had no equal. In fact, he once sustained quite a gruesome knee injury after stepping into one of New York’s bottomless potholes. He needed complicated surgery and showed up for work the very next day, on crutches, his leg wrapped in bandages. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ I asked, incredulous. ‘My job,’ he answered, as if my question were absurd.”
In addition to his son, Cohen is survived by a grandson Samuel Frazen and a granddaughter, Kathryn.
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