Dr. D. Walter Cohen, dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, chancellor emeritus of the Drexel University College of Medicine, and a former president and chancellor of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, died Friday, June 29. He was 91.
"We've lost a giant in dentistry," Theodore P. Croll, a Doylestown dentist, wrote of Dr. Cohen on a Legacy.com condolences page. "Scholar, teacher, sage, conscience of the profession. Eyes, brains, hands, and heart … that was Walter. Rest in peace, dear friend and brilliant colleague."
"He was a remarkable individual," said Jonathan Volinsky, a Center City dentist who graduated from Penn's dental school in 1979. "He ran the school in a very humanistic bent, which was different from the reputation of many dental schools at the time. He came to the aid and defense for women at a time when it was not common for people to do so. Things have changed dramatically in dentistry and medicine in 40 years, and he was a part of it."
"To say he was fair would be a gross understatement," Volinsky said. "He went out of his way to see that we were successful, proud of being dentists, proud of being Penn graduates, and appreciative of our entire Penn experience."
Perhaps Dr. Cohen's interest in dentistry was not surprising: His father, Dr. Abram Cohen, had been a member of the Penn dental school's Class of 1923.
Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Cohen got an undergraduate degree from Penn and earned his D.D.S. from its dental school in 1950. After a research fellowship in pathology and periodontics at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, he returned to Penn as an assistant instructor. In his 35-year career there, Dr. Cohen established the school's department of periodontics and was its first chairman. For many years he also had a dental practice in Center City.
He became president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1986, and chancellor in 1993.
In 1997, Dr. Cohen established the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which offered an exchange program between dental students at Hebrew University and Palestinian students at the Al-Quds School of Dentistry in Jerusalem, the Dental Tribune reported in 2010.
Dr. Cohen received the French government's Legion of Merit, was chair of the Pennsylvania Diabetes Academy, and president of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He received eight honorary doctorates from universities around the world.
He helped create the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine and Dentistry—ELAM. Over a 16-year period, more than 700 women graduated from the program, many advancing to leadership roles in dental schools around the country.
He served on the boards of the Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia University, Gratz College, the National Disease Research Interchange, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philly Pops, and the Hadassah Medical Organization.
Dr. Cohen was married to Betty Ann Axelrod Cohen, who preceded him in death. He is survived by three daughters, Jane E. Millner, Amy Cohen, and Dr. Joanne Cohen Katz; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Monday, July 2, at Joseph Levine & Sons Memorial Chapel, 4737 Street Rd., Trevose, Pa. Burial is private. Contributions in his memory may be made to the National Museum of American Jewish History, or to the Drexel University College of Medicine.