The Gilbert M. Cogan Memorial School
The Cambodia Rural School Project
The Gilbert M. Cogan Memorial
Dr. Gilbert Cogan
Gimpel Mayer ben Shmuel
(Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein)
Gilbert Cogan, with his unflagging energy, his youthful curiosity, and his constant good humor, managed to convince most of us this day would never come. He of course had his share of health problems over these last years, but Gil’s spirit, his fortitude and determination half persuaded us that he could go on forever.
In life, Gil believed there were only two ways to do things…the right way and the wrong way…this rule applied to medicine, child rearing, and even burial rites. In Gils’ opinion funerals were top heavy, hollow rituals. Life was for the living; every day was an opportunity to celebrate, death was to be avoided at all costs.
But here we are…close family and intimate friends, honoring Gil’s very specific wishes, no big funeral, no eulogies, if there must be tributes, make them brief. And so gather not to glorify Gil in death, but to remember his extraordinary life, and the timeless and enduring values he has left us.
A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a favorite of Gil’s describes success:
To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics, and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.
Gil was a success…as a father he was honored, and loved by Ruth, Beth, Jim and Peter, and later when they married, along with their partners, Bob, Michael, Irene and Mary Beth. He rejoiced in his status as grandfather to Adam, Jack, Nick, Matt and Jack. In fact one of the kids nicknamed him Fluff, a name he relished, as much as he delighted in his status as grandfather.
Gil and Gail had a wonderful fifty-year marriage. They were intellectual equals, they loved to travel, and they had similar energy levels. Each brought out the best in the other. Gil could never have done what he did without Gail’s unwavering support and love, and I am convinced Gail’s attentiveness, particularly in these last years, extended his life.
To his late sisters, Barbara and Gladys, Gil was an adored and attentive brother; he was a beloved uncle and granduncle, a loyal and close cousin.
Next to his family, both immediate and extended, which remained at the core of his life, Gil was a healer. He was respected by his patients and their parents; he was a revered mentor to his colleagues, particularly the newly minted doctors who learned so much from him. Feared by anyone who did not take his or her calling with the proper seriousness, Gil’s unyielding devotion to the well-being of his young patients redeemed the sometimes unrelenting expectations and demanding standards he had of his fellow doctors and nurses.
For Gil medicine was less a profession, more a calling, a passion which he cherished, and which he practiced with skill and dedication. He worked hard…he loved his patients, and they worshiped at his altar.
I remember the first time I met Gil; and now I will forever remember the last time I saw him. The first time was seventeen years ago; I, a young rabbi newly arrived in Andover, called to officiate at the funeral of Uncle Elmer. Gil sized me up, in that way that he did, wanted to know my pedigree, and wanted it known that he wasn’t a very religious guy.
The last time I saw him was just a few days ago…at my weekly Bible class that he and Gail had been attending of late. In the expanse of the last seventeen years I saw Gil hundreds of times; and even spent ten days with Gail and Gil on a journey through Israel.
Gil was right, he wasn’t a particularly religious guy, in the classical sense…but he loved people, all people…the kids he treated and their at times over wrought parents.
Gil was a life long learner…whether it was Jewish text, or eastern culture, or whatever…he was a true intellect.
Mostly, Gil was a wonderful guy, with a sparkle in his eye, a smile on his face, a funny one liner, a warm embrace. You his family know how much he loved you, and all of us know how much he cared about all of us. Maybe he wasn’t a religious guy, in the classical sense, but the values upon which he lived his life are among the most noble, and of the highest standards.
None of us really knows what lies ahead, but I would imagine that wherever Gil is, if he’s not comforting some sick child, reassuring a nervous parent, at the very least, he is skiing down a gentle slope out west, his skis drawing perfectly parallel lines in the newly fallen snow, the rays of sun bouncing off the snow, he is happy.
Dr. Gilbert Cogan, Gil, was a unique and special man. His memory will remain a blessing forever.