About 600 Washington-area politicians, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, business executives and others joined family members of Washington attorney Vincent H. Cohen Sr. during a Wednesday memorial service for Cohen at the Washington Convention Center.
Cohen, 75, died Dec. 25 of a pulmonary embolism.
Cohen, who joined the Washington law firm Hogan & Hartson in 1969 and three years later became one of the District’s first African American attorneys to rise to partner level at a firm, was remembered as a tough litigator, trail blazer and mentor to many attorneys and judges in the Washington area.
Those in attendance Wednesday included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), former Ward 4 Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth, D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield, D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric T. Washington. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker and D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
“He was an integral part of the Washington, D.C. landscape for many years,”said Gray. “Both publicly and behind the scenes.”
“He was a very significant player in the legal community,” said criminal defense attorney Frederick D. Cooke. “He was a lawyer and a civic activist.”
During the approximately two-hour service, speakers talked about Cohen’s athleticism — he played basketball for Syracuse University in 1957 and then attended law school there, becoming editor of the school’s Law Review.
Cohen specialized in corporate law and represented such companies as Bell Atlantic and Pepco. Several speakers remembered of how Cohen and his wife Diane often hosted parties at their D.C. home for new African American attorneys.
Cooke, who is representing D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., charged with misappropriating city funds, said Cohen met with him in 1978 when he was a young attorney, advising him on the Washington playing field.
“He was a mentor to so many of us and he would always fight for you,” said Hogan & Hartson partner Harry Jones.
Ronald C. Machen, U.S. Attorney for the District, said he consulted Cohen when he considered applying for the position in 2009.
“He told me to always try to lift people up and to try to make a difference in this city,” Machen said.
A standing ovation during the service came when Cohen’s son, Vincent Cohen Jr, now Deputy U.S. Attorney for the District spoke of following in his father’s footsteps. The junior Cohen said when he told his father he was considering joining the U.S. attorney’s office, his father applauded his decision to give back to a city that has “given his family so much.”
In name and in profession, the younger Cohen said he had the “perfect” role model.
“Growing up, I never had to emulate athletes or rap artists,” Cohen said. “I had the perfect role model, right upstairs.”