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Howard A. Cohen, a former presidential aide and Pa. revenue secretary, has died at 81

He thought government, education, and religion could play important roles in the lives of people and spent his adult life working to make them accessible and beneficial.

Mr. Cohen and his wife, Barbara, met at a government hearing. He called her afterward, and they got married in 1972.
Mr. Cohen and his wife, Barbara, met at a government hearing. He called her afterward, and they got married in 1972.Read moreCourtesy of the family

Howard A. Cohen, 81, of Philadelphia, a former aide to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, onetime Pennsylvania secretary of revenue, administrator and adjunct professor at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, and longtime Jewish leader, died Saturday, May 21, by accidental drowning while fishing in Stroud Township, Monroe County.

Mr. Cohen was associate dean for development and external relations for Temple’s Fox School of Business in the 1990s and 2000s and helped raise funds for its 2018 building renovations. He also taught classes in human resource management, business ethics, and negotiation for the school, and was scheduled to be in the classroom this fall.

A natural communicator, mediator, and facilitator, he served as a consultant, treasurer for the board of directors, and then executive director for the Dialogue Institute, a Temple-based group that promotes “respectful dialogue and critical thinking” among world leaders. In 2017, Mr. Cohen said his role at the institute was to apply “the intellectual efforts of the university to segments of our society where dialogue is needed now more than at any time since the 1940s.”

Before Temple, in the early 1970s, Mr. Cohen was an adjunct professor at Penn, chairman of the Wharton School’s public management unit, and teacher at the Fels Institute of Government.

In the mid-1970s, he served in the administration’s personnel and public liaison offices under Presidents Nixon and Ford. In 1979, at 37, he was named Pennsylvania’s secretary of revenue under Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

He was previously a congressional fellow and worked with Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and other notable government officials. Mr. Cohen served later on the private-public partnership board of Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation.

“He believed that government has an important role to play, and he wanted to be part of that role,” his daughter Sarah said.

He was an executive for several companies, including ARA Services of Philadelphia and CEP Industries in Gloucester Township in the 1980s. He also ran his own management consulting and public policy firm.

An outspoken Republican who said “the character of the candidate and the trust that the voters have in the candidate are as important as where they stand on particular issues,” Mr. Cohen wrote several opinion pieces for The Inquirer.

» READ MORE: Mr. Cohen: Former President Ronald Reagan said it best when he proclaimed the 11th Commandment, ”Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”

“Instead of running toward President Trump, Pennsylvania Republicans must consider the daily lives of voters and appreciate that their party is not a debating society,” he wrote last November. “They must do their principal job: nominate thoughtful candidates who can win in the general election.”

In May, Mr. Cohen told columnist John Baer of the Patriot-News of Harrisburg: “When I hear Senate candidates say, ‘I’m going to fight for Pennsylvania,’ I don’t know what that means. The Senate is not a place for fighting. It’s a place for collegiality, a place for getting things done.”

His daughter said: “He was very much a man of integrity.”

» READ MORE: Mr. Cohen: In today’s interconnected world, the United States must provide global leadership.

Active in his religious community, Mr. Cohen was a past president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the Washington-based Republican Jewish Coalition. He also served as vice president and CEO of New York-based ORT America, a Jewish support organization, and Operation Independence, an international drive to grow Israel’s economy. He was a longtime member of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley and a past president of its men’s club.

“The moral component and community of Judaism was meaningful to him,” his daughter said.

Born Feb. 10, 1941, in Newark, N.J., Mr. Cohen earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics and a law degree from Rutgers University. He received a master’s degree in international business and transportation from George Washington University.

After a divorce, he met Barbara Weinstein in Washington, and they married in 1972 and had son David and daughter Sarah. They lived for years in Bala Cynwyd and moved to Philadelphia five years ago.

Mr. Cohen was an avid fisherman, had a huge library, and pored over books about history, religion, and politics. He had a sharp memory and often carried index cards to make notes of important things he wanted to revisit. He was close to his family, always asking about their views and why they held them.

“He was always there for us no matter what,” his daughter said. “He believed nothing should hold you back.”

In an online tribute, a friend said: “He was a wonderful human.”

In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Cohen is survived by two grandchildren, a sister, and other relatives.

Services were May 25.

Donations in his name may be made to the American Jewish Committee Philadelphia Chapter, Mail Code: 6760, P.O. Box 7247, Philadelphia, Pa. 19170, and Chapter 289 of Trout Unlimited, P.O. Box 661, Tannersville, Pa. 18372.