Monday, October 24, 2011

In Memoriam: Jack C. Cohen, FAIA (recap of Jack's memorial service)

On Saturday in Washington, DC, we attended a memorial service for Jack C. Cohen, FAIA, one of my father-in-law’s (Gus Nadell) best friends for many, many years. Jack was the founder and managing partner of CHK Architects (the firm is now known as Torti Gallas.) I had the pleasure, if not the privilege, of serving CHK’s reprographics needs during my entire first career in the reprographics business, from 1970 until I retired from Rowley-Scher in 1988. The words “privilege” and “pleasure” are, of course, understatements. CHK was an absolutely amazing firm to work for – CHK’s team members were very talented, very hard working and an absolute delight to serve!

One of the worst things, if not the worst thing, about growing older, is the fact that friends, family and business associates eventually pass away. Jack died in late September, after a very full, rich life. Yesterday’s memorial service was a celebration of Jack’s life. As I mentioned in my earlier post about Jack’s passing, he was an incredible person – warm, engaging, personable – all of the adjectives that describe a unique, special person.

Tom Gallas served as the master of ceremonies for Jack’s memorial service. Tom is an accountant (CPA) by background and a partner in Torti Gallas. It was Jack who hired Tom to join CHK, and I remember when Jack made that decision – to hire a CPA to run the business operations of CHK. Fantastic decision. Tom Gallas was a masterful master of ceremonies – his organizational talents are, well, masterful.

John Torti, who joined CHK in 1973, gave an absolutely, wonderful, heartwarming recap of Jack’s business career. Jack led CHK to be one of the premier Architecture firms in the Washington, DC area. John Torti mentioned that Jack, during his long, highly successful career, employed more than 2,500 people. That’s a lot of lives to touch (especially when you think of the families of those who worked for CHK.) I was really glad to hear John share with everyone that Jack’s practice – hiring-wise – was to completely ignore race, color, creed and religion. Which was why CHK (and I’m positive that Torti Gallas is the same way today) was a virtual melting pot of people – from all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, etc. Working with CHK was like working at the U.N. Jack (and his partners) hired minorities when discrimination was still common in the D.C. area. It is a fact that many black architects, right out of school, got their first architecture jobs at CHK. Several of those architects later founded their own firms. (Virtually all of those firms, if not all, also did business with our reprographics company.) John mentioned Jack’s incredible relationship-building skills. That skill came natural to Jack Cohen. Young people starting their careers in business should learn, early on in their careers, that “your success depends on the success of your customers/clients”, which is something Jack seriously took to heart, and I’m very glad John Torti mentioned that about Jack. John’s recap of Jack’s business life was very eloquent and thoughtful. As I sat there listening to John speak about Jack, it brought tears to my eyes. And, brought back many fond memories of my days – and my father in law’s days – of working with Jack, his partners and all of his associates.

Saturday’s memorial ceremony was attended by quite a large number of Jack’s former employees (Jack thought of them as team members, not as employees), many of whom went on to founding their own architecture firms after leaving CHK. For me, the memorial ceremony as a homecoming of sorts – gave me the opportunity to say hello to people I served for many years, during my first career, people that I and my father in law cared a great deal about – considered friends, not just customers.

Jack C. Cohen, FAIA is no longer with us in the present, but his amazing legacy will live forever. R.I.P., Jack, you will be missed by all whose lives you touched.

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