Former Newsday Sunday sports editor Norm Cohen, shown in the...

Former Newsday Sunday sports editor Norm Cohen, shown in the Newsday newsroom in 2018, died on Friday. Credit: Newsday/Doug Dutton

Every Sunday, Newsday readers would pick up a pile of Norm Cohen’s fingerprints.

The longtime Sunday sports editor poured a week’s worth of work into producing the paper’s largest and most prestigious sports section. His imprint was on every page, and Cohen always aced it. Under his watch, Newsday's Sunday sports section won countless awards and earned the praise of newspaper professionals around the country.

“Norm had ink in his veins,” said Hank Winnicki, Newsday’s assistant managing editor for sports. “He was also influential in helping us transition to digital. He could put together a great sports section, fix stories, react to breaking news — and he could do it all on tough deadlines. He was the kind of person every newsroom needs.”

Cohen, a longtime Kings Park resident who worked at Newsday for 32 years, died early Friday morning at his home after a five-year battle with prostate and rectal cancer, his family said. He was 73.

"He was an advocate for diversity and transparency in our coverage of high school sports," said Gregg Sarra, Newsday's high school sports editor. "Norm was always thinking out of the box and looking for new ways to share our stories on various platforms. He could be a tough mentor and truly cared about young writers and helping them improve."

A Chicago native, Cohen began working at Newsday in 1987 as a copy editor in the sports department. He also served as a layout editor and oversaw coverage of high school sports. It was in the high school department where he helped guide the careers of young writers, many fresh out of college. He always was there with helpful hints on story structure or proper quote usage.

“He was my boss and I was barely into adulthood, but he always treated me like an equal,” said Laura Albanese, a Newsday general assignment sports reporter and columnist who spent many years in the high school department. “He also listened when a lot of people didn't.

“I think of Norm as my editor," Albanese said, "but I also think of him as someone who saw the humanity in what we were trying to do and saw the humanity in the people he worked with. It was an honor to learn that lesson from him. It was an honor to see him juggle strong personalities. And it was an honor to see how seriously he took his role as mentor.” 

Cohen also wrote a nationally syndicated sports memorabilia and baseball card column in the 1990s.

“I loved working with him,” Winnicki said. “He had a great sense of humor and would always tell me what he thought, whether I liked it or not. I appreciated that about him.”

Born on Dec. 18, 1949, in downtown Chicago, Cohen grew up a die-hard White Sox fan. He developed an affinity and a talent for journalism at a young age.

While writing for the school newspaper at Northern Illinois University, Cohen was part of a team that wrote about a local Arby’s systematically overcharging customers. After the story was published, the overcharging stopped.

After college, Cohen worked at the Des Plaines Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, writing mainly about high school sports and earning praise for his writing talent and eye for a story. He expressed an interest in copy editing and later worked in that role for the Chicago Tribune before joining Newsday’s staff in the late 1980s.

Sylvia King-Cohen, his wife of 22 years, said Cohen was a loyal friend whose interest in journalism didn't wane after his retirement in 2019.

“He was a journalist until the end of his life,” said King-Cohen, a former Newsday writer and editor. “He was a fast and furious friend. If you were his friend, you’d have to do something to sabotage that friendship, because he wasn’t going to stop being friends with you.”

A lover of Midwestern culture, Cohen spent summers driving up and down Route 66, touring the country one rest stop at a time. He visited 46 states — missing only Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Cohen’s cross-country trips mixed three of his passions — driving, fast food and family. King-Cohen said the couple made the coast-to-coast trip at least "15, 20 times."

Cohen was a connoisseur of the quick meal, with Taco Bell being a particular favorite. He also loved pizza, hot dogs, corned beef and pastrami.

"We took a lot of road trips together," said his son, Andrew Cohen, 35, of Maryland. "We saw a lot of stuff. We ate a lot of stuff. If we ordered something different on a menu and I took a bite of his and I really liked it, he would give it to me, even though what he ordered was vastly superior to what I ordered. But he wanted to make sure I was enjoying it.”

“We were known to take the road less traveled and get off the interstate and see what was there,” his wife said.

Winnicki said the happiest he ever saw Cohen was when he was talking about his son.

“He was the best dad,” Andrew Cohen said. "He always made it very clear that I was one of the most important things in his life. He was always super-excited, proud and thrilled about anything I did, [big] or small."

In addition to his wife and son, Cohen is survived by daughter-in-law Abby Cohen of Maryland; sister, Jill Klimek of Illinois; nephews, Mark and Mike Klimek of Illinois; brother and sisters-in-law William and Ella King of Louisiana, Harold King of Oklahoma, Clyde and Linda King of Texas, Sharron and Jean-Pierre Foulon of Oklahoma, and Lola King of Texas; and 16 other nieces and nephews.

A viewing will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 5, at Branch Funeral Home of Commack. Cohen will be buried in Oklahoma at a later date, his wife said. 

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