Squirrel Hill man's obituary offers one unusual request, gains national attention
January 22, 2016 11:38 PM
Mic Smith/Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump.
By Gary Rotstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Squirrel Hill chiropractor Jeffrey H. Cohen loved making a good joke during his 70 years of a fun-loving life.
His sons assured a measure of fame and immortality for that sense of humor by finishing his highly personalized, entertaining obituary with a wise-cracking anti-endorsement of one of his least favorite presidential candidates.
“Jeffrey would ask that in lieu of flowers, please do not vote for Donald Trump,” said the newspaper obituary that began appearing in the Post-Gazette Wednesday, three days after Mr. Cohen’s unexpected death from an apparent heart attack at age 70.
As the week progressed, those unusual last wishes were publicized by national media including Time, USA Today and The Associated Press, among others. Somewhere, Mr. Cohen must be smiling about it, including the irony of his actually having nothing to do with the obituary or the request.
“My brother had found a similar request online about Hillary Clinton,” said one of his sons, New York City screenwriter Jason Brown, who wrote the obituary as part of the funeral arrangements handled by McCabe Brothers Funeral Home in Shadyside. “We said we knew what we should put for dad. … To him, it would be the perfect joke.”
Ironically, Mr. Brown didn’t even know if his father was a Democrat or independent — he was just pretty certain he wasn’t Republican. And certainly not in favor of Mr. Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul whose bold, blunt statements during the campaign have mystified a number of Americans while attracting many others, And he’s not the only one in the current crop of Iowa contenders who made Mr. Cohen recoil.
“He felt a lot of the candidates this year were pretty [far] out there with the things they’re saying and the strategies they’re putting forth, and so silly,” Mr. Brown noted. “He would read articles about the candidates and just laugh.”
The final word given on the Trump candidacy was part of a lengthy biography describing a warm, worldly man who worked on a Montana ranch when young, happy to identify himself thereafter as a rare “Jewish cowboy” who had shoveled more horse manure “than you’ve ever seen in your life.” Mr. Cohen went on to become a successful local chiropractor at an Oakland office where he treated numerous Steelers, ballerinas, musicians and even Fred Rogers and Liza Minnelli.
Attempts at such humor in death notices stands out, as anyone who makes a habit of scanning them in the newspaper can attest. Still, these write-ups — generally provided to funeral homes by family members — tend to be more personalized than they once were, which is also true of funeral services themselves, said Dan Bekavac Jr., president of the Allegheny County Funeral Directors Association.
“I try to encourage people to add their own touch, but it’s the right of the family to have whatever they want,” said Mr. Bekavac, a Versailles-based funeral director who can’t recall handling anything quite like a presidential endorsement — or in this case, opposite of endorsement — in his decade in the trade.
It’s hardly unprecedented, however, as Mr. Brown’s brother Justin discovered. He was the one who knew of late New Jersey resident Elaine Fydrych’s last wish in August urging people “please do not vote for Hillary Clinton.”
And in equal-time political fairness to Mr. Trump, we must point out that only two weeks ago in a Richmond, Va., newspaper the obituary for lifelong Republican Ernest Overbey Jr. concluded “... and please vote for Donald Trump.” It prompted the candidate to post a tweet thanking him.
No sign as yet of any tweeting by Mr. Trump about Mr. Cohen’s obituary, but that probably wouldn’t have bothered the cowboy chiropractor.
“If he knew he was contributing to the national discussion in this way, with so many laughs and a good sense of humor, I think it would have made him super happy and tickled to be part of it that way,” son Jason said after a family reception Friday celebrating Mr. Cohen’s life.
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