Selma Jean Cohen, 75, director of bed registry for state nursing homes

July 04, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Selma Jean Cohen, who opened her heart to ill and handicapped children and adults and succeeded in bringing smiles to their faces, died Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of cancer. She was 75.

A resident of Mount Washington for 30 years, she was director of nursing home bed registry for the state health department at the time of her death, a position she had held for 25 of her 34 years working for the agency. She also did extensive volunteering, including working with her husband, Leonard, as volunteer weekend managers at Ronald McDonald House for 10 years.

Mrs. Cohen embarked on a career in her early 40s, going to work for the health department as a statistical analyst. As director of nursing home bed registry, she would locate available beds for patients across Maryland -- and take complaints about nursing homes for referral to the appropriate agencies. She was on sick leave at the time of her death.

When Ronald McDonald House opened in Baltimore in 1982 as a temporary residence for out-of-town families with children in the hospital for serious illnesses, a co-worker asked Mrs. Cohen if she would be interested in helping. She and her husband, now a retired life insurance salesman, became Saturday house managers there -- and also arranged its annual Christmas banquets.

"It was wonderful to be helpful to the parents of these children from far-away cities," her husband said. "Working with children gave her an inner feeling of satisfaction and gratification."

She also was active as a volunteer with her husband in his hospice work at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital and at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital. "The love of our life was being with toddlers, with all kinds of illnesses," Mr. Cohen said.

"She got very close to the children, and when they died, she'd come home and cry," said a son, Ellis Cohen of Los Angeles. "She cried like they were one of her own."

Called "Mommy Lady" at home, Mrs. Cohen was known for her ebullience and enduring sense of humor.

"She had three great unfulfilled ambitions in her life," said her son, a television movie producer and author. "She would have made a great third-base coach, a weather forecaster or Hollywood tipster.

"She was always yelling into the TV and giving the Orioles advice. She gave better weather forecasts than all of the TV weather people with their fancy computers and maps. All she did was open the back door, look at the sky and reel off a perfect five-day forecast. She seemed to know all of the celebrity news before Liz Smith. We used to tease her that she was one of [Smith's] tipsters."

Despite her long illness, Mrs. Cohen maintained a cheerful outlook. "She never complained," her son said. "She always insisted on making lunch or dinner before she had to go to the hospital for treatments. In fact, two days before she died she wanted to know how the Orioles were doing."

Born in Baltimore, the former Selma Jean Lattin was a 1939 graduate of Forest Park High School. She worked for a wholesale housewares company owned by her brother, Max Lattin, for several years and in 1942 married Leonard Cohen, traveling around the country with him while he was serving in the Army during World War II.

"I met her at a Benny Goodman dance in 1940 at the old Coliseum on Monroe Street," Mr. Cohen said. "She was dancing with a friend of mine when I decided to cut in, which she thought was deplorable."

In the early years of raising her two children, she was not only a homemaker but a PTA president at the old Louisa May Alcott Elementary School, a Cub Scout den mother and a president of a synagogue sisterhood.

"She gave without expecting anything and I always admired her honesty and wholesomeness," her husband said.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., Reisterstown Road and Mount Wilson Lane.

She also is survived by another son, Jerome Cohen of Baltimore; a sister, Miriam Albert of Baltimore; and two brothers, Max and Herman Lattin, both of Baltimore.

Pub date: 7/04/96

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