It's only through the prism of years that Richard J. Cohen, 67, has been able to see what happened to him when he was in college as a "gift," the chief executive of Public Health Management Corp. told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
His mother died and his father had a heart attack. "I had to drop out of school to take care of him. I'm an only child," Cohen said. "That horrible thing was a gift to me. I had to grow up and do things. If you take my grade point average before that happened and you take my grade point average after it happened, you see two different people. From that point forward, there wasn't anything I did that I wasn't the leader of."
Despite dropping out briefly, Cohen said he graduated on time from the University of Maine.
I asked him how he made the move from Maine, where he grew up to Philadelphia.
"I knew I needed to get to a bigger city," Cohen said. "The only thing I knew about Philadelphia -- and this is a terrible thing to bring up right now -- was Temple University, from Bill Cosby. I watched I Spy as a kid. I had seen him on I Spy wearing a Temple University sweatshirt. I thought Temple was going to be a lot like Boston University, which it's not. I got in my '66 Mustang and came to Temple to be a graduate student in psychology.
"When I came to Philadelphia, having driven my 66 Mustang from Maine, when I got off the Ben Franklin bridge, I came across Vine Street and I pulled into a gas station.
I said, `Please would you fill it up, check the oil and wash the windshield?'
"And the guy said the first words I'd hear in Philadelphia: `You've got two f---ing hands.' I knew I wasn't in Maine any more. I lived on campus in Temple and I had never lived in a big city before. I got a master's degree at Temple and was a leadership position in the Upward Bound program.