1926 - 2006
Former ACBL chief and four-time national champion Ralph Cohen died on Tuesday at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, in the USA. Cohen, who had battled cancer for several years, was 79.
Cohen was a current member of the WBF Laws Drafting Committee and a familiar face at world bridge championships for many years.
Canadian by birth, Cohen represented his native country in international play in the early part of his career, placing fourth in the World Team Olympiad in 1964. Playing on a multinational squad in the Rosenblum Teams in 1990, Cohen and his teammates were quarter-finalists. He held the title of International Master from the World Bridge Federation.
Cohen was also an ACBL Grand Life Master with four North American Bridge Championship titles: IMP Pairs (1990), Senior Knockout Teams (1997), Open Swiss Teams (1995, 1998).
Earlier this year, Cohen was named the 2006 recipient of the Sidney H. Lazard Jr. Sportsmanship Award. He was scheduled to receive the award in Chicago next month.
Cohen joined the ACBL staff as assistant executive secretary in 1971 and served as executive director from 1984 to 1986. He continued as an ACBL consultant until retiring in 1991. He was a member of the ACBL Laws Commission for more than two decades and was vice chair of the WBF Laws Committee.
WBF President Jose Damiani expressed sadness at the news of Cohen's death.
"Ralph loved bridge, and he worked very hard and effectively on the WBF Laws Drafting Committee," said Damiani. "He was a personal friend to me and the other members of the WBF Executive. He will be missed. We send our deepest sympathy to Ralph's wife, Joan, and their sons."
John Wignall, a member of the Laws Drafting Committee, said he and Cohen went back a long way – to the Culbertson days. "Ralph has been a big part of bridge ever since then."
Wignall said he had enormous respect for Cohen's contributions to the development of the laws. "He was clear thinking, very experienced, and he had a memory like an elephant," said Wignall. "He could remember passages from the laws from the Thirties."
Joan Gerard, also on the Laws Drafting Committee, was visibly shaken at the news of Cohen's death. "This is a huge loss to the committee," she said, "and a huge loss to bridge."
Gerard added: "He loved the ACBL, and he cared so much about bridge. He dedicated his life to the ACBL. He was a wonderful man."
Despite his illness and frail health, Cohen still managed to play bridge, winning at a club game in Memphis only three days before his death.
One of his regular partners in recent years was Henry Francis, former editor of the ACBL Bridge Bulletin and the Daily Bulletins at the world championships.
Francis wrote the following tribute to his friend:
"Ralph Cohen was a fine bridge player, an able administrator, a proud family man and a good friend. But most of all he was a fierce warrior.
"Early on, his bridge opponents and partners discovered his fierceness. Later bridge administrators learned how hard Ralph would fight to improve the game. But it was in the battle of life that Ralph demonstrated his warrior strengths most strongly.
"When he was hit by four major illnesses simultaneously a few years ago, no one thought he'd make it. But he did. When one major cancer after another struck him, Ralph just kept going.
"Every Thursday when he wasn't hospitalized, he trekked to the Lightman Bridge Club in Memphis to play bridge with me. And he never changed. He had to take a couple of short rest breaks each time, but he still put the fear of God into opponents with his fiercely competitive play and defense.
"And he never complained. If you asked him how he was doing, his answer was always the same – ‘I'm OK.’ "
A graveside service was scheduled for Thursday in Memphis. Besides his wife, Cohen leaves three sons: Jordan, Billy and Mitchell.
The family requests that donations be made to the Methodist Alliance Hospice, 6423 Shelby View Drive, #103, Memphis TN 38134.