Irwin Kelman “Kel” Cohen, M.D., died on June 9, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of 84. He passed away peacefully at his home with his wife at his side. Kel held confidently to his belief that life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather that one ought to skid in sideways, with the body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and while screaming “Wow – what a ride!” Kel is survived by his wife, Gayle Williams; his children, David (Candace) Cohen of Madison, Wisconsin and Nancy (Mike) Kotz of Kensington, Maryland; and his grandchildren Hunter, Lowell, Anna and Hannah. He is also survived by his wife’s daughter, Alison (Carl) Meadows and their children, Clara and Libby. He was preceded in death by his parents, Morris and Ida Kelman Cohen; and his brother, William Cohen. Kel was born March 30, 1935, in Troy, New York. He grew up in Massachusetts and on the shores of Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire, where his lifelong love for the Boston Red Sox was sparked. After graduating from Williston Academy in Massachusetts, he went on to his beloved Kenyon College and then graduated from Columbia University. He earned his M.D. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Kel continued his training at Dartmouth, The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the National Institutes of Health, after which he realized he wanted to pursue an academic career because of the influence of his mentors at Kenyon and UNC. Kel came to Richmond in 1972 to the then Medical College of Virginia, now the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and founded the Plastic Surgery program as well as the first Wound Healing Laboratory for research in the United States. His many years at MCV were a source of great fulfillment and satisfaction. He continued to support the university and its programs in any way he could long after retirement. As an educator, Kel served on the Board of Plastic Surgery and was an editor of its journal. He founded the Wound Healing Society, served as its president and was the founding president of the Wound Healing Foundation. He lectured on wound healing and plastic surgery throughout the world, published over 125 papers and edited a definitive textbook on wound healing. His awards include Physician of the Year by the Richmond Maimonides Society and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Wound Healing Society, The Society for the Advancement of Wound Care and the World Union of Wound Healing Societies. Prior to his death, he spearheaded the organization of the Wound Healing Coalition to give wound healing its proper place in medical science and its deserved recognition with the NIH, FDA, United States Congress, CMS and the public. Kel loved the residents and students he guided and felt a deep satisfaction in the good work they did in health care, knowing that his influence made a difference. He was loved in return by them and also by his countless patients, whom he always treated with respect, kindness and genuine caring, for his hope was to make a meaningful difference in their lives. Despite the rigorous demands of his career, Kel still found time to embrace life with zest and zeal, often while enjoying a memorable meal accompanied by a fine wine. He loved music, photography and cooking, and traveling the globe. He was a lifelong learner with curiosity about everything. He was a true blue Carolina Tar Heel fan. Kel embraced a wide circle of friends from many different occupations, countries, languages and backgrounds and he enjoyed keeping in frequent touch with all of them. Still, far above his career was his family and although at times work kept him from them, he agonized when it did. The accomplishments of which he was most proud are his children and grandchildren. Kel believed strongly that life was eternal because his children and grandchildren carried his DNA and he would always live through his offspring. To Kel, his children and grandchildren made him immortal and death would never be the victor. He loved the line from the poet E.E. Cummings, “How do you like your blue-eyed boy Mister Death?” A Celebration of Life will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a charity of one’s choice.
Remembering members of the Williston Northampton community