Naomi Glosser Cohen, an eternal optimist who measured her accomplishments in the hundreds of personal relationships cultivated during her lifetime, died Sunday, Oct. 11, in her home. She was 85.
Cohen grew up in Johnstown, one of five children and a twin. Being a twin defined her life and her personality. Her twin sister Doris Rudolph described the pair as being “womb-mates and roommates” who went by a variety of nicknames, including “The Dynamic Duo” during their fundraising days in the 1960s and 1970s, and “N’Sil and D’Sil,” pet names of unknown origin that close family members still use today.
Writing letters home from college, they signed, simply: “The Twins.”
Dressed alike as children by their parents, they continued dressing alike into college and young adulthood on their own. They often took advantage of being identical twins. Once, when Naomi was in the late stages of pregnancy, they arranged for Rudolph to take her place at a visit to the obstetrician and tell him, “I decided to have the baby without you.”
“They used to play switch on me all the time,” said Jesse Cohen, Naomi’s husband of more than 60 years and a past president of the United Jewish Federation.
Even as the twins started separate lives and families, they never grew apart, living two doors down from one another in Point Breeze.
“She was my right arm,” Rudolph said.
The daughter of a department store owner and a leader in the small Jewish community of Johnstown, Cohen in her youth frequently spent weeks at a time vacationing with her family in Florida. In their 70s, the sisters would spend five days a week fishing from their boat called “The Sisters Three,” named for the three daughters in their family.
Although Cohen did years of volunteer work for groups like the Vanguard Women of the UJF and the Ladies Hospital Aid Society, she preferred a life surrounded by family and friends. She joked that in college she majored in “getting out.” Filling out a form at customs on a trip from Israel, she listed her occupation as “professional vacationist.”
Cohen’s children described her as being a charismatic force and the life of every party. “She just had a complete love of life,” said her daughter, Rochel Shlomo. “A total optimist.”
That optimism became apparent in recent years, when severe emphysema forced Cohen to rely on artificial breathing apparatuses, keeping her stuck at home. Instead of going out, she invited her grandchildren over and watched them play.
“Instead of mourning that loss of the big world, she appreciated the narrower world,” daughter Cathy Droz said.
In eulogies at her funeral, several of her grandchildren described the close relationship they had with Cohen, but also expressed surprise to hear everyone else describe similarly close relationships: each said they felt like they had her undivided love and attention.
In her final years, she forged friendships with the paramedics, drivers of medical supply trucks and mailmen who visited her at home. Among the dozens of family photographs on the walls of her room, there is a large photograph of a toddler: the grandchild of one of her caretakers, given a position as prominent as any family member.
Those former strangers became welcome friends because of Cohen’s warmth and charisma, and ability to make people feel special, said her son, Tim Cohen.
“Everybody wanted to make deliveries to this house,” he said.
Her optimism lasted until the final moments of her life. A few days before she died, when asked how she felt, she said, “I think I’ve turned a corner, but I’m not 100 percent yet.” And asked about the best times of her life, she said, “I want to be the age I am now.”
Even on her last visit to Florida, when it became clear that her illness would prevent her from returning to the place where she spent so many seasons of her life, she turned around in her wheelchair as she left to tell the family house: “See you soon!”
“She was a very special gal,” husband Jesse Cohen said. “She never said a bad word about anybody. Everybody was good. Everybody was wonderful.”
Cohen — known for her supreme love and gratitude for life — died on Simchat Torah, the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar. More than 700 people attended her funeral.
In addition to her husband and three children, Cohen is survived by her 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren; and by her three siblings, Doris Glosser Rudolph of Point Breeze, Betty Black of Johnstown and Paul Glosser of Sarasota, Fla.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-687-1006.)