The life of Dorothy Mahoney Cohen was celebrated on the afternoon of March 17 at the Library Community Room.
A former mayor and community leader, library bookstore co-founder, mother, grandmother and widow, she passed away in January at 92.
Nearly 100 of her family members and friends attended the event, which was hosted by her family at the library she loved. Guests shared remembrances of Cohen and her remarkable life.
Those present included current and former South Pasadena city and school officials and employees and representatives of elected officials from the area. Community members, library bookstore volunteers and Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library (Friends) board members were also there.
In addition, classmates, colleagues, spouses, children and family members of Cassy Muronaka and Jamey Cohen, Cohen’s two daughters, attended. Dorothy Cohen’s husband Jerry and son William are deceased.
Cohen was of Irish heritage, so many in attendance wore green to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. All the chairs were green. Sweets were Cohen’s favorite food, so cakes, cookies and other desserts—many decorated with green-hued frosting—filled two long tables.
Each cake had one corner piece cut out. This was an inside family joke meant to recall her daughter Jamey’s 50th birthday party. At it, Cohen had sliced herself a piece before the cake had ever been cut for the large crowd.
The family and the Friends group provided refreshments. The sound system played songs by Frank Sinatra, Cohen’s favorite singer.
Poster boards displayed newspaper articles and photographs of Cohen from childhood to her later years. Framed commendations and certificates awarded to Cohen were placed on stands around the historic room.
Almost 20 people spoke about her life and legacy. These included her daughters Jamey Cohen, a former novelist and current entertainment lawyer in Century City; and Cassy Muronaka, a professional photographer. Grandsons Jake Muronaka and Liam Allman spoke. John Allman, Jamey Cohen’s husband, spoke. He also read remarks written by son Gavin Allman, who is in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps.
Others speaking were Steve Fjeldsted, Library Director; Odom Stamps, former mayor; and Sean Joyce, former city manager. Teresa Lamb Simpson, Deputy to Congressman Adam Schiff, who at one time represented the city, spoke. Others were Diana Mahmud, city councilmember; Harry Knapp, former city councilmember; Yvonne Pine, former school board member; Carrie Adrian, vice chair, city Finance Commission; and Henk Friezer, photographer. Martha Welsh and David McNary, Muronaka’s classmates, and this reporter also spoke.
Her daughters described their mother’s early life. Muronaka said she had a difficult childhood in a difficult time: the Depression. Dorothy’s father had died when she was an infant, and her mother married multiple times, Jamey Cohen said. As a result, Dorothy had seven stepfathers, two of whom were con men.
“She grew up with no rudder, no foundation, no emotional security,” Muronaka said. “Because her mother was such an ignorant, gullible woman.” Her mother had also joined an endless number of religions.
Dorothy and her mother were forced to move multiple times. One reason was that her mother believed evil spirits entered a house if residents stayed too long, Jamey Cohen said.
“Dorothy Mahoney was hiding rent money under the bed at nine years old,” Muronaka said. “Can you imagine having to do that?”
Muronaka said about her mother, “Given her upbringing, anyone else would have landed on the streets or in an insane asylum. She grew up to be normal.”
“She was determined to change her life and did so out of sheer will and tenacity,” said daughter Jamey Cohen.
She left home at 20 and began a career in journalism. She married a fellow journalist in a whirlwind romance.
In 1962, she settled in South Pasadena with her three children and husband Jerry, a newspaper reporter at the Los Angeles Times, Muronaka said. This was after moving frequently for her husband’s work in the newspaper business, which Muronaka said was “like the Army.” She said Cohen informed her husband that she would not move again.
She began volunteering for the library and the League of Women Voters, Muronaka said. Cohen worked part time as a public information assistant for the South Pasadena Unified School District, she added.
In 1982, she and three others founded the highly successful Friends’ bookstore. She assumed leadership positions on the Friends Board and the Library Board of Trustees. She was active in other community organizations.
In 1994, Cohen was elected to City Council and served until 2003. She continued her community involvement for years after retiring from public office. However, she experienced a number of health challenges. She was diagnosed with cancer three times. She experienced a progressive loss of hearing that began while on the City Council. This forced her to restrict her activities. She was reluctant to resign from her bookstore responsibilities and retired as bookstore coordinator only last year.
Sean Joyce, city manager when Cohen was in office, said she was one of the strongest women he had ever known. Their relationship went from a complete lack of trust on her part to a friendship that continued even after he left the city in 2004. Joyce, known for his exacting, businesslike manner, noticeably teared up during his comments.
Joyce said she had high expectations of herself and others. “She did not let her foot off my chest,” he said.
Steve Fjeldsted, Director of Library, Arts and Culture, invited all to don an invisible bracelet. “It says ‘WWDD,’” he said. “What would Dorothy do?”
He suggested that if the leaders reflect on what she would do in situations they encounter, all would be right.
“Without Dorothy Mahoney Cohen,” he said, “the city of South Pasadena and this library would not be near what they are now.”
After all who wanted to speak shared from the podium, the Friends offered glasses of premium champagne or Perrier to those in the room. Once everyone had a glass, all held them high in a group toast to Dorothy Mahoney Cohen.
As a tribute to her, Fjeldsted later suggested that the city be renamed “Dorothyville.”