Accolades don’t get much better than the one coming from South Pasadena Library Director Steve Fjeldsted, who called Dorothy Cohen the single greatest library volunteer he has even seen in his 40 years working in the California public library system.
Fjeldsted, talking fondly of the woman who gave so much of herself, especially in South Pasadena before her death on January 20 at the age of 92, was one of a collection of speakers delivering kind words about Cohen, who was remembered last Saturday afternoon during a special tribute in the South Pasadena Library Community Room.
He pointed out that Cohen donated much of the second half of her life to the city and its library, which wouldn’t nearly be what they are today without her larger than life presence.
More than 100 people attended the special tribute for Cohen, filling a room she frequented often over the years, whether it was for a library or city event.
Audience members could hardly be called mourners because, without exception, each speaker who eulogized the longtime City Council member, former mayor and co-founder of the highly successful Friends of the Library Bookstore, provided memories that were filled with love, respect, and admiration, and leavened with large doses of humor.
Fittingly, her memorial fell on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, as Cohen was proud of her Irish heritage. Encouraged to wear green, more than half of those in attendance chose the color for at least part of their attire.
Guests entered to strains of Frank Sinatra songs instead of Irish music because his recordings were her favorites due to some degree to her experience once accompanying him on a date to a boxing match. In addition to hearing from Dorothy’s two daughters, Cassy Muronaka and Jamey Cohen and son-in-law John Allman, those in attendance also heard anecdotes, reflections, and fond remembrances from her grandsons, Jake Muronaka, and Liam Allman.
City Councilmember Diana Mahmud remarked how inspirational Dorothy was to her, and former mayors, Odom Stamps and Harry Knapp talked about how Dorothy brought her own brand of in integrity to City Hall at a time when it was greatly needed.
Teresa Lamb Simpson, representing Congressman Adam Schiff, presented a proclamation acknowledging Dorothy’s vast achievements.
Former South Pasadena City Manager Sean Joyce recalled how he had purchased writing style guides for his department heads because of how exacting and meticulous Dorothy was when it came to the written language. Sally Kilby, who had been hired by Cohen as city clerk, marveled at how devoted and accomplished she customarily was, not only in how she lived her life, but in how well she prepared for her passing, writing her own obituary and giving some of her personal possessions to friends she knew would enjoy them.
About a dozen others shared their recollections of one of the most influential and memorable of all South Pasadenans. The Friends of the South Pasadena Library provided refreshments and the room was decorated with Dorothy’s heartwarming family photos and green balloons, ribbons, and crepe paper streamers running along the walls. Guests were informed that donations in Dorothy’s memory could be made to the Friends of the Library. The lively gathering concluded with a rousing Irish toast to Dorothy’s memory.
Other thoughts from community members:
Here is what some in the community said about Cohen’s passing:
Henk Friezer, Longtime photographer
There are few unique people who make a lasting impression in people’s lives. Dorothy Cohen was one of these people. I met Dorothy working for the now defunct South Pasadena Journal, when she was writing press releases for clients and submitting them to newspapers. Later I had the pleasure of working with her when she did press releases and published a monthly publication for the South Pasadena school district and used my photography. Her husband Jerry was a well-known journalist at the Los Angeles times. Dorothy’s involvement in the community became a well-known fact. She was one of the key people in the friends of the library, and library related activities. Her community involvement and popularity led to her being elected to the city Council. One of one of Dorothy’s most memorable moments was when she was selected as citizen of the year for the city’s annual 4th of July parade, she loved it as she rode down Mission waving to her adoring fans. Dorothy is one of the few people I’ve ever met who did not have any enemies or foes. She was extremely charismatic and cordial, but could be very assertive if the occasion arose. Like everyone else who knew her I too will miss her tremendously. I also hope that an area of the library will bear her name so future generations will be able remember the contributions she made to the community she called home. I, for one will cherish having known her and will always fondly remember her.
Dr. Marina Khubesrian, City Council member
I first met Dorothy Cohen during my first campaign for city council in the Fall of 2011 to ask for her endorsement. We spent more than 2 hours talking. She wisely advised me about the responsibility and time commitment involved in being a city councilmember and said to make sure I had my family’s full support. She described her experience on the council and as mayor in 2003 and felt that her perspective and more cooperative but no-nonsense leadership style was much appreciated on a historically all male council. I will always cherish her wisdom and support and be honored to have had her endorsement. May she Rest In Peace.
Diane Mahmud, City Council member
I was greatly saddened to hear of her passing. Shortly after I was elected (to the City Council) she came to my home to give me copies of drawings for a remodeled library. I only recently forwarded them to the Library Board of Trustees and our library director (Steve Feldsted) aas we were discussing future plans for the library. For some reason the city was unable to locate the plans and I was so pleased to be able to forward them to the city when the subject came up. Dorothy would have been very pleased. I was looking forward to the opportunity to tell her.
She was a true gem for our city and especially its library, an excellent example of the difference on can make in our community – with a lot of hard work.
Note to our readers: A special thank you to South Pasadena Library Director Steve Fjeldsted for passing along the background about Dorothy Cohen, who contributed so heavily to the City of South Pasadena over the years. We’d like to hear your thoughts about Dorothy in our comment section below….
Steve Fjeldsted and Bill Glazier contributed to this story.