A waitress once approached Manhasset’s Harvey Cohen and alerted him he had forgotten to shut off his Cadillac’s lights.
“‘Young lady, that’s not my car,’” Cohen responded. “I could not fit a lacrosse goal in the back of a Cadillac.”
Instead he drove a station wagon large enough to haul his lacrosse gear and bore the license plate “HARVLAX,” said Chris Avazis of Port Washington, who witnessed the exchange from across the table.
Lacrosse was a way of life for Cohen, who died on May 27. He was 97. Even more so were the qualities he exuded coaching the sport — devotion, loyalty and passion — his family and friends said.
“He was a benevolent king that really had a flock,” said his daughter Beth Cole, of Annapolis, Maryland, “and he worked to make sure that everybody had the best and got what they deserved.”
Cohen, an attorney and World War II Army Air Corps pilot, was instrumental in the founding of Port Washington Youth Activities (PYA) in 1963 and created the group’s lacrosse program a year later. That was the first of several local lacrosse programs that he founded throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. He was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1988.
Avazis, who played for Cohen in the 1970s, recalled how he would stalk the sideline, coaching through a bullhorn. “When you get older, you appreciate every word he said,” Avazis said. “You really learned how much he loved the kids.”
Cohen grew up in Far Rockaway and graduated atop the Class of 1936 at New York Military Academy, where he played lacrosse and football. He starred for Lafayette College’s lacrosse team and led Pennsylvania in scoring in 1939 and 1940, said his son, Barry, of East Setauket.
After graduating cum laude, Cohen enrolled in Harvard Law School. World War II interrupted his study in 1941, and he received his wings and commissions as a second lieutenant in 1943. He piloted a plane in the 32nd Trooper Carrier Squadron, dropping paratroopers in the Invasion of Sicily, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.
While Cohen was overseas, boxing legend Joe Louis visited for a fight in front of the troops. Cohen’s father had a house in Greenwood Lake in Orange County, where Lewis trained periodically, so Cohen and Lewis knew each other.
“Joe made sure that my father’s flight crew had access to the good seats to watch the fight,” daughter Beth said.
After the war, Cohen graduated from Harvard in 1947 and met his late wife, Norma. Cohen was out with friends. Norma was on a date.
“He told his friend that he thought she was something special,” Barry said, “and later his friend came back to him and told him a couple months later she had broken up with that guy, now’s your chance. He picked up the phone, and there you go.” They married in 1947.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Cohen helped provide amputees with athletic opportunities through the Ossining-based 52 Association. He was the president of the North Shore Unitarian Universalist Society from 1974-75. Beginning in the 1980s, he was on the Mental Health Association of Nassau County’s board of directors.
Cohen is survived by children Doug, Beth and Barry; grandchildren Kyle, Emily, Ben, Danny, Ted and Katie, and great- grandson Bennett.
A memorial service will be held July 2 at North Shore Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset.