He wore the standard bow tie to work – because babies often grabbed at long ties. He is a Harvard graduate with a schooling background that began at the age of 3. He has been in war zones, seen death, and yet, held onto his compassion. He is a husband, father and caregiver to all those around him.
Dr. Albert Cohen, a longtime pediatrician in Brookline who founded Centre Pediatric, will mark his 100th birthday with an open on house Jan. 7 from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m., welcoming any and all of his patients, friends and family to join the celebration.
“You sometimes come across doctors who are a little bit jaded by the end of their careers, he never sort of lost that compassion,” Dr. Cohen’s son Stephen Cohen said. “There are a number of people who have come up and said, ‘Your father saved my son’s life.’”
Although he retired 25 years ago, Dr. Cohen has made his mark on the community, still giving advice to patients years later.
“He was always really supportive of everybody, I’ll still run across his patients and they’ll say, ‘I just want to call your dad up, I just have some advice I need,’ because he had really great judgement,” Stephen said.
“I bumped into someone the other day and she was telling me about the last time she saw him, which was probably about maybe three years, and he was in a wheelchair and she was going on and on to him about her son and her son’s girlfriend and all this stuff and he was like, ‘You can’t control it, you just accept it,’ and she just was like, ‘Oh, you’re right,’ and it was fine because Dr. Cohen said so.’”
Dr. Cohen, alongside his partner the late Dr. Dan Heller, opened up Centre Pediatric Associates, PC in 1981 after spending time working in a small practice on Centre Street with an overflow of patients.
He practiced for many years in Boston Children’s Hospital as well and, even after retiring at 75, still worked in the field covering for other doctors and assisting longtime patients.
Aside from his time in hospitals, Dr. Cohen served as a doctor in the far east during World War II, something he didn’t seriously speak about for years after, according to his son. When he spoke about the war he would tell stories about his down time during the war, playing poker and sending his winnings back to his mother Rose.
“He said when you’re out in the war like that, you bet anything, because you don’t even know if you’re going to come back, so the stakes would get huge. At one point, he was winning a lot, so all the things that he was winning, he couldn’t send them all back. The sort of ultimate win of this was a set of dishes, so we still have the set of dishes he won in a game of poker in a hot spot during World War II; it’s bizarre,” Stephen said.
When Dr. Cohen began to speak more about his time during the war, he talked about grim moments like when the soldiers woke up after enemies had sneaked into their camp, to find fellow soldiers who had been killed in their sleep.
Although danger was surrounding him, especially during his time on Guadalcanal, Dr. Cohen focused his energy in taking care of others.
“He always looked at, if somebody is suffering it was like, ‘What can I do to make it better?’ instead of, ‘What’s the impact on me?’ This whole war experience, you’re thrown in with people from every part of life.”
After the war, Dr. Cohen came back to live in Cambridge, poor, working as much as possible to build Centre Pediatric that would become one of the largest pediatric practices in Boston.
“So by day, he would be a doctor, and by night, he would work in this little convenience store that his parents owned,” Stephen said. “He was always terrified a patient would come in and be like, ‘Hey, you’re the doctor who just treated me, you’re selling beer at night?’”
Dr. Cohen had grown up in a family of immigrants and worked constantly to be able to afford his schooling at Harvard and Tufts Medical School, alongside the scholarships he received. He began going to school at the age of three after following his sisters into school every day, and ultimately graduated from Cambridge High and Latin at 16 as valedictorian.
“His story is like the classic first-generation story, his parents both came over from Russia, they spoke primarily Yiddish at home,” Stephen said. “It’s sort of this first generation thing where you know what you don’t want, you want to see if there’s a world. His parent’s world growing up was very small, it was just a little Jewish community in Cambridge. My grandmother was an immigrant who knew nothing about how to get ahead in America, but she had an unshakable belief in him and his ability to become anything he wanted.”