Dental School Head D. Walter Cohen Dies at 91

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D. Walter Cohen | Photo provided

D. Walter Cohen, who served as both chancellor emeritus of the Drexel University College of Medicine and dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, died June 29. He was 91.

After completing his undergraduate and dental degrees at Penn, Cohen continued his career there for the next 35 years. He also established the university’s Department of Periodontics.

He also created the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine and Dentistry and, in 1997, spearheaded the D. Walter Cohen Middle East Center for Dental Education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


His work and dedication to spreading knowledge gained him worldwide recognition.

He was awarded the Legion of Merit Award from the French government for his contributions to France’s dental education. He was the third American ever to earn honorary membership into the British Society of Periodontology and received an honorary degree from the Carol Davilla University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania. Cohen also received honorary degrees from Boston University, Drexel University, Hebrew University and Gratz College, among others.

Other accomplishments include his 1976 induction into the Central High School Hall of Fame and becoming president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1986; he became its chancellor in 1993. In addition, he was the first presidential scholar of the University of California, San Francisco, a gold medal winner from the American Academy of Periodontology, and one of only 23 dentists in the United States to be elected into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cohen didn’t forget his Jewish roots.

He served as the president of the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) and on the board of Gratz.

“We are deeply saddened about Walter’s passing. Our museum would surely not be what it is without him and he leaves a legacy even larger than his life — which is saying a lot,” NMAJH CEO and Gwen Goodman Director Ivy Barsky said. “His inspirational words to our volunteers a few weeks ago were so Walter — humble and wise — about the importance of American Jewish history, our museum and volunteerism. And then he hopped off the stage — really, he hopped!”

Cohen is survived by his three daughters, Jane E. Millner, Amy Cohen and Joanne Cohen Katz, as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Donations in his memory may be made to the NMAJH and the Drexel University College of Medicine.

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