Stuart Cohen loved to explore the depths of human connection. And he did it in countless fleeting interactions — with passengers in his taxi.
As a New York City cabdriver for 25 years, Cohen thrived when chatting with passengers about subjects like the Kennedy White House or American politics. He once picked up former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a fare, according to a friend of Cohen’s, and inquired eagerly about his personal history and thoughts on politics, in a manner without social boundaries typical of a quintessential New Yorker.
Cohen died on April 8 at Coney Island Hospital. He was 73. The cause was respiratory failure as a result of the coronavirus, W.J. O’Reilly, a friend of 35 years, said.
O’Reilly said that his friend, who had become a Buddhist, had performed the dharma of service by using his own car to give rides to fellow Buddhists. They approximated family for him. And he often ended the trip with a punchline. “He would put his hand out asking for a couple dollars as fare — even when he wasn’t driving a cab,” O’Reilly said.
Cohen was born on Jan. 1, 1947, in Brooklyn to Samuel and Nettie Cohen. The family moved around the borough while he was growing up. He had lost touch with his immediate family for unknown reasons, said O’Reilly, who added that it seemed as if Cohen had tried to salve his unhappiness by serving others.
He joined the Navy in 1967 and served primarily as a radio operator, stationed for a period in the South Pacific, his friend said. Since 1988 he had lived on West 8th Street in Coney Island.
Cohen liked to collect books being thrown out or put up for donation. He read as many as he could and then redistributed them, dropping them off at places he knew to have bare bookshelves, like nursing homes.
“One third of my high school graduating class went to Harvard College,” O’Reilly said. “And I have to say, Stuart, who went to high school only, was the best-read person I’d ever known.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .