Gilbert M. Cohen

[ Age 80 ] Salesman was a friend to local musicians and students at the Peabody Conservatory.

November 16, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Gilbert Melvin Cohen, a salesman who opened his Mount Vernon Place apartment to friends and musicians, including students from the neighboring Peabody Conservatory, died Tuesday of complications from leukemia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 80.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Park Heights, Mr. Cohen attended the old Louisa May Alcott School No. 59 and was a 1944 graduate of Forest Park High School, where he was class president and played soccer. He enlisted in the Navy and was a radio operator aboard a vessel in the Caribbean near the end of World War II.

As a young man Mr. Cohen considered going into theater, but instead he honored his parents' request that he join them in running their men's and women's clothing business, the Exclusive Shop at 322 W. Baltimore St.

"He loved sales because he loved the people connected to it." said a son, Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen of Baltimore. At Mr. Cohen's funeral yesterday, a story was told that he once turned down credit for a "skinny little guy" who came in one afternoon. It was Frank Sinatra, who was performing at the nearby Hippodrome.

After the shop closed in 1965, Mr. Cohen worked as a salesman for Enterprise Paper and Chemical Co. until his death. "His outward approach to life was optimism and happiness, sometimes to the frustration of those around him," Rabbi Batsheva Meiri of Temple Emanuel said in her eulogy at the funeral in Pikesville.

Throughout his life, Mr. Cohen performed in community theater and in several independent films. He was a founder of Center Stage and a member of its first board of directors.

After raising a family in Lochearn, he and his wife of 53 years, the former Helen Mae Schlossberg, moved to West Mount Vernon Place. "When all the children were gone, we were in the situation so many middle-aged people are in. Our house was too big and too empty," he told a Sun reporter in 1981.

He bought a first-floor apartment between Hackerman House and the William Walters Mansion. Some days he read his paper while seated on a bench in the park. He spoke to passers-by and came to be known as the square's unofficial mayor.

The Cohens soon began arranging musical events for friends and area students. A 1981 Sun article described the success of their musical events but said the Cohens were "not impresarios."

"We just happen to like good music and this happens to be a good way for us to hear it," Mr. Cohen told the newspaper.

Mr. Cohen supported the Peabody Conservatory and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and followed local sports teams. He attended the Colts' 1958 championship game in New York.

"The world needs more people like Gil Cohen," said Floraine B. Applefeld, a friend for many years. "He was always smiling."

He was a former member of Yedz Grotto and Shaarei Zion and B'nai Jacob congregations. He recently joined Temple Emanuel.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include another son, Jeff Cohen of Paris; two daughters, Ellie Cohen of San Anselmo, Calif., and Debby Lee Cohen of New York City; five grandchildren; and a step-granddaughter.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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