Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Larry Cohen RIP


Andy Thibault has written a moving tribute to Larry Cohen, the longtime libertarian commentator who had a regular column in the Hartford Courant. All of us, whatever our political persuasions, used to thrill to Larry’s commentary. In deep blue Connecticut, Larry was a fish out of water, and even seeing a conservative piece scarring the usual uniform commentary pages of the Courant – a rarity beyond belief – invariably sent a thrill up the leg of conservatives and libertarians, and never more so than when Larry, pitchfork in hands, took off after one or another slovenly liberal, some of whom signed his pay checks. For conservatives and libertarians, reading a Cohen column in this setting was like hearing a stone speak: You were just struck dumb.

And then the rich humor and the wit kicked in. His passing is a great loss. Wit — much more fragile than analysis and, of course, much more enjoyable – is irreplaceable. It is the very face and character and blood and sinew of a man so that, when it leaves the room, the proper response to its permanent parting should be grateful appreciation and prayer. So then, a prayer for Larry and those he touched.

Mr. Thibault’s prayer below is here printed in full with the permission of the author, the proprietor of the Cool Justice Report. Mr. Thibault’s tribute to Larry appeared in the Register Citizen paper.
At the risk of raising a laugh against itself, the Courant can best hoist a glass to Mr. Cohen by printing in its pages a selection of his best columns.

Larry Cohen: From bashing liberals to tutoring angels 


SOUTH FLORIDA — Larry Cohen is upbeat, exuberant, even as his body fails him.

“I hope you’re frisky,” he said in a voicemail on Aug. 24. “It’s sort of a mess out here as people get ready for the hurricane … I’ll catch up with you.”

Four days later, one of our mutual pals – the eye surgeon Joe Bentivegna of Rocky Hill – got the call. He knew what it was.

Larry Cohen, a dynamic irritant to thousands of readers and a great friend to many more, had died of a heart attack at age 64.

His columns in newspapers including The Hartford Business Journal, The Hartford Courant, The Commercial Record and The Connecticut Law Tribune generated bags full of complaints, some of it even hate mail.

Larry loved it. He carried around huge envelopes loaded with correspondence like they were pots of gold. Much like Godzilla, he got stronger with each shot fired at him. Given his long history of heart problems, it’s probably part of what kept him alive so long.

In print, Larry was a barn burner who would destroy the village to destroy the village. In person, he was a soft touch. He was generous in every way and, far beyond any of the principles he espoused and lived by, he somehow touched even those who were repulsed by some of his views. How did he do that?

Other colleagues this week have done a fine job answering that question and talking about two Larrys: the politically incorrect public persona who enraged so-called do-gooders with mockery and the private Larry who was a relentlessly-quiet do-gooder himself. Larry viewed and lived life as a comedy. His laughter and spirit were contagious. It was impossible to have lousy time hanging out with Larry Cohen. When he ventured to help a colleague, there was no currency greater than a phone call or note from Larry Cohen.

For more answers, I encourage readers to check out columns and reports by Susan Campbell, Rick Green, Colin McEnroe and Chris Keating, with special attention to the comments.

Larry was also known in Connecticut for helping to found a free market think tank, The Yankee Institute. And just a couple months ago he was elected president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Still, there’s a another dimension to Larry that requires reporting for the record. Larry took a great deal of time to touch friends the old-fashioned way, through hand-written notes delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

“A few times a year for the last 15 years I got a lot of funny stuff from him,” said Ricky Greenfield, publisher of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger in West Hartford.

Just a few weeks ago, Larry sent me a Boston Globe clip about featuring a restaurant where one of my sons worked.

Roger Desmond, a colleague of Larry’s at the University of Hartford and a professor of communications, received many news clips and notes over the years.

“The most memorable thing about Larry,” Desmond said, “is that he kept a lot of stuff about people in his brain. For example, he knew my research area was children and media. Every few months he would send me a clip about my interests that was exactly tailored to me. If he saw my name on a news feature or academic article, he would send a few sentences of response, sometimes with a dose of sarcasm.”

Desmond continued, “It didn’t matter if you were on the right or on the left. He was not a social conservative; to me, he embodied the real sprit of libertarianism. He could insult everything you believed but you left liking him. And I was just one of a whole constellation in his wide universe. Somewhere in the great beyond, he is reminding an angel that everything she knows is wrong. And she is smiling!”



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