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    05.19.17 NPR’s Scott Simon Shares Memories of Visiting Professor Neil P. Cohen
    Professor Neil P. Cohen

    Courtesy of Riva Nelson

    “I looked up to Captain Neil as much as I did any astronaut. He was funny, smart and kind,” Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, said in a tribute to his long-ago camp counselor Neil P. Cohen, who served as a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School for more than a decade. Cohen died on May 8 at age 72.  Simon remembered Cohen as a pivotal figure in his childhood, encouraging his budding interest in writing and journalism, and giving him his first issue of The New York Times, which Simon read by flashlight and carried with him for days.

    "He had that magical gift of enfolding almost anyone who came into his sphere with warmth and laughter and joy," said Cohen’s wife, Riva Nelson.

    Cohen spent much of his 45-year teaching career at the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he was the UTK Distinguished Service Professor of Law, the W.P. Toms Professor of Law, and the University Ombudsperson. After retiring from UT in 2006, he taught criminal procedure, criminal law, and evidence at Brooklyn Law School, most recently in fall 016.

    Cohen was well known for his scholarship on evidence and criminal law and procedure. He wrote numerous law review articles and 13 books, and he drafted the gender-neutral version of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate, Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Procedure. He also revised the Rules of Criminal Procedure and played a part in drafting the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and the Tennessee Penal Code.

    Prior to his teaching career, he was a criminal defense lawyer, a special prosecutor with the Knox County (Tennessee) District Attorney General’s Office, and a law clerk to Hon. William Miller of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

    Outside of work, Cohen was a baseball coach, a barbecue expert, and a lover of the theater. He was also a cherished friend of many of his colleagues at the Law School.

    Professor Anita Bernstein remembers Cohen as a great source of support and guidance. In 2003, when she was invited to write a questions-and-answers book on torts, she turned to Cohen, who had experience with the format.

    “I knew Neil from a party at his beautiful Knoxville house years ago, and I knew he had written a Q&A book himself,” Bernstein said. “Neil was so encouraging.  He answered all my questions about Q&A. Other people felt supported and valued by Neil, too."

    Professor Bill Araiza shared with Cohen a love of theater as well as teaching.

    “I knew Neil for years, both professionally and socially,” Araiza said. “I’ll treasure our theater and dinner dates when he and [his wife] Riva were in New York. He was as charming and friendly in private as he was dedicated and inspirational in his teaching and other professional engagements. He’ll be deeply missed.”

    Professor Lawrence Solan’s friendship with Cohen was both intellectual and adventurous—they planned a book project together and hiked in Yosemite. “Neil was a wonderful colleague and a dear friend,” Solan said. “His brilliance and dedication to his students were matched by his warmth and sense of humor. His passing was a shock and is a great loss.”

    Cohen received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University, his J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law, an LL.M. from Harvard University School of Law, and a Diploma in Criminology from Cambridge University. He was also a member of the American Law Institute.

    Listen to the NPR segment here.