October 25, 2014

Maynard M. Cohen

by Steven P. Ringel, MD

Maynard M. Cohen, MD, PhD, scholar, humanitarian, and leader of American neurology, died on Feb. 18 at age 93. Younger neurologists may not be familiar with his many accomplishments since he lived a long life and retired two decades ago. But Maynard, as he was known to all, mentored many academic neurologists including me, and his impact as a role model was extraordinary.

Maynard worked closely with A. B. Baker, MD, one of the four founding members of the AAN, to develop the AAN’s highly successful educational programs. He served as AAN president from 1981-1983 and as president of the American Association of University Professors of Neurology from 1986-1987. He was an honorary member of the American Neurological Association.

Maynard received his undergraduate education from the University of Michigan, his medical degree from Wayne State University, and his neurology training and PhD in neurochemistry from the University of Minnesota. For many years he was professor of pathology, biochemistry, and pharmacology, as well as chair of neurosciences, at Rush University.

As a young medical resident, I became very intrigued with the research Maynard and his neurology colleagues were conducting at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital (then a part of the University of Illinois). The conferences he organized and the faculty he assembled drew me away from internal medicine and into neurology. At one point his faculty included Harold Klawans, Frank Morrell, and Erland Nelson — all of whom were well known, had served as chairs of departments of neurology, and brought additional expertise and unique perspectives to Rush. Maynard’s decision to provide a comfortable environment for those three leaders epitomized the loyalty, acceptance, and patience that were at his core.

From our first encounter, it was clear that Maynard valued my prior experience and academic goals. Rather than insist that I complete all standard residency rotations, he wanted to enourage my academic career and allowed wide latitude in my training requirements. The atmosphere of talent, energy, and camaraderie that he fostered made it fun to come to work.

Maynard was internationally recognized for his contributions in neurology, neurochemistry, neuropharmacology, neuropathology, and forensic neurology. He completed a neurochemistry fellowship at the University of London and was a visiting scientist at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità [National Institute of Health] in Rome. He was a frequent lecturer throughout the world and was fluent in numerous languages.

As a research associate in the department of neurology at the University of Oslo in 1951, he began what would become a lifelong interest and commitment to his beloved Norwegian colleagues. He returned to Norway many times and was elected to the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1982. In 1998, he was named an honorary member of the Norwegian Neurological Association, a unique distinction for a non-Norwegian.

Maynard authored two books and numerous scientific articles on the biochemistry of neural activity and the neuropathology of cerebral anoxia, hypoxia, and ischemia. He served on numerous editorial boards and was an associate editor of the Journal of Neuroscience for more than 20 years. He participated for many years in NIH training grant selection committees. For his lifelong contributions to neurology, Wayne State University College of Medicine gave him a distinguished service award in 1964, a distinguished alumni award in 1985, and established a Maynard M. Cohen Endowed Lectureship in Neurology in 2000.

Apart from his scientific and clinical accomplishments, Maynard had a broad interest in medical history, ethics, literature, and medicine. In his book, A Stand Against Tyranny: Norway’s Physicians and the Nazis (Wayne State University Press), he brought to life the Holocaust as it unfolded in Norway through stories of physicians who aided Jews threatened with extermination. He eloquently described their valor in the Norwegian Resistance movement and was very proud of those who placed their lives at risk in the service of humanity.

Along with his wife Doris Vidaver, a distinguished author, he co-directed a program in the medical humanities at Rush University and taught courses in medical ethics and literature at annual AAN meetings. Having lived and interacted with colleagues of diverse backgrounds throughout the world, Maynard offered a gentle, scholarly, and wise perspective to all.

Maynard was a devoted husband and father. He is survived by his wife Doris, his daughters Elena (Nini) Cohen and Deborah Vidaver-Cohen, son-in-law Steve Ritz, and two grandsons. He spent many summers with his family in Woods Hole, MA, surrounded by his academic colleagues at the Marine Biological Laboratories.

Although the last years of his life robbed him of his health, he continued to inquire about colleagues and their welfare and remained enthusiastic about neuroscience. For those of us who were fortunate to work with Maynard Cohen, he taught us how to be committed investigators and teachers. More importantly, he showed us how to be a kind, gentle human being, and a true humanitarian — a life well lived.

Dr. Ringel, editor-in-chief ofNeurology Today, is professor and director of the Neuromuscular Division of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Reprinted with permission from Neurology Today, March 20, 2014