Ronald Cohen, 47, dies of brain cancer; helped lead post-9/11 rescue and recovery efforts

Staten Island Advance

Ronald Cohen Staten Island Advance Anthony DePrimo

Ronald Cohen Staten Island Advance Anthony DePrimo

Ronald Cohen of Eltingville, a deputy commissioner and senior advisor in the Office of the Mayor who was appreciated and honored for his community service as much as his public service, died Tuesday of brain cancer that he contracted while helping to lead rescue and recovery efforts following the September 11 attacks. He was 47.

Mr. Cohen was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. The disease went into remission following treatment but returned in April. He had worked long days for nine months at Ground Zero until operations there officially shut down.

He died in the Addeo Hospice Residence on the grounds of Eger Health Care Center.

Known to his many friends as Ronny, he worked with three mayors while rising quickly from riding sanitation trucks to directing special enforcement and security for the Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office and the Mayor’s Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management.

“One of the reasons for New York City’s success and dramatic rise is public servants like Ronny Cohen,” former Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Wednesday. “For 26 years, he worked to make our city a better place, and he succeeded every day.

“He was someone we called on to move mountains – and he could do it because he knew how every aspect of government worked. He could marshal forces from every level and I always knew we were in good hands when Ronny was on top of an issue,” Bloomberg continued.

“His dedication to our city and his community was never more evident than during the days and months following Hurricane Sandy, when Ronny worked tirelessly to help Staten Island get back on its feet.

“He was wildly admired and loved by his colleagues for his selflessness and dedication and I consider myself privileged to have worked with him for 12 years, and more privileged to be able to say he was a friend,” Bloomberg said.

“Ronny’s ability to connect with people was incredible,” said Anthony Crowell, a friend and colleague who served as counselor to Bloomberg and is now president and dean of New York Law School. He noted Mr. Cohen was equally comfortable dealing with everyday New Yorkers and high ranking officials and corporate executives.

“He was a priest, a rabbi and a friend to all. And he had absolutely endless generosity.”

Mr. Cohen joined the Sanitation Department in 1988 and soon was assigned to agency’s police force. In 1996, he was appointed a special investigator for the Trade Waste Commission, now known as the Business Integrity Commission.

Though many of his assignments were serious or grim in nature, Mr. Cohen found balance and great pleasure in the “fun work,” such as his annual involvement with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, New Year’s Eve in Times Square and Fleet Week events.

For his investigative work, Mr. Cohen’s many citations included the Isaac Lieberman Public Service Award, given to career public servants who demonstrate extreme dedication, and the U.S. Department of Justice Public Service Award for Meritorious Service.

Most recently, he was recognized by the FBI for coordinating multi-agency task force investigations into the private carting industry, the public wholesale markets and the shipboard gambling industry.

In addition, Mr. Cohen was honored by both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the New York State Office of Emergency Management for his efforts after the September 11 attacks.

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Tuesday, “I was deeply saddened to learn that former Deputy Commissioner Ronny Cohen has lost his long battle with cancer.  My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Despite the demands of his family and career, Mr. Cohen found time to dedicate himself to several charitable and fraternal organizations as well.

For more than two decades he was deeply involved with the Sanitation Department’s Columbia Association, and served as president for its more than 2,500 members for the last seven years.

He was an associate mayor with the Community Mayors of New York and New Jersey, and for the last 20 years he and his family spearheaded distributing toys to children who were in the hospital during the holidays. He was given the organization’s Humanitarian Award in 2006.

Mr. Cohen was also honored in 2007 by the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation and was named “Man of the Year” by the Neighborhood Improvement Association in 2009.

A native of Brooklyn, he attended James Madison High School and married his high school sweetheart, Paula, whom he met in fifth grade. They moved to Staten Island in 1995.

He enjoyed attending Broadway shows and food tastings with her and loved taking family trips to Disney World with his son Nicholas, 15, and daughter Diana, 9.

In addition to his wife and children he is survived by his parents, Roy and Frances Cohen, and two brothers, Joseph and Paul.

The funeral will be Monday from the John Vincent Scalia Home for Funerals with a mass at 11 a.m. in Holy Child Church, both Eltingville. Burial will follow in Resurrection Cemetery, Pleasant Plains.

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