The P&S Journal: Spring 1998, Vol.18, No.2
Alumni News and Notes
'81 Leads the Pack: A Class Operation
Last year the Class of 1981 reached a historic high watermark: 72 of its members, almost half the class, contributed to the Annual Fund, surpassing the closest contender by six. This year the class hopes to do better yet, predicted the proud ringleaders, powerhouse co-class chairs Ron Cohen and Mathis Kirby.
To hear Ron Cohen tell it, the closeness and commitment was there from the start, just waiting to be tapped. “We had a tremendous sense of class unity and still do,” says Cohen, “fueled by our enjoyment of and pride in each other’s skills and talents.” He recalled that “our immediate predecessors so impressed the faculty that we initially labored a bit to find ourselves and get out from under their shadow. I think that actually helped forge our class identity and challenged us to achieve.” The real payoff for Cohen is the kind of doctors they became. “If I or anyone in my family needed a physician, I’d go to my classmates first.”
Active with the Bard Hall Players, Cohen has “always been impressed by what people can do when they put their hearts and minds and talents together.”
Co-chair Mathis Kirby concurs: “I’m far closer to my medical school class than I am to any of my college or high school friends.” Maybe it’s the sense of having gone through a rite of passage together. Maybe it’s the collective sense of relief at having reached for a difficult goal and achieved it. “Pre-meds are so driven they sometimes put on blinders but once you get into medical school, as hard as it is, there’s almost a feeling of relief. You might as well enjoy the challenge.” She fondly recalls strenuous, albeit mutually supportive, group study sessions with Cohen and other friends in Bard Hall capped off by a regular midnight viewing of “The Twilight Zone.” Sports were her favorite way to unwind, especially squash and basketball played with classmates in the gym.
The late Eugene S. Mayer’64, who led his class to glory in the game of giving, once acknowledged that he felt something like a coach rallying the team. Both Kirby and Cohen believe in the virtues of team effort or, as she puts it, “a sense of being in this together.” Her mother, a committed alumna fund-raiser for Harvard Law School, inspired Kirby to do the same for P&S. Despite her busy schedule as assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Virginia at Richmond and mother of two, she makes the time to co-author fund letters “as a way to keep in touch with old friends.”
Founding president and CEO of Acorda, an early stage biotechnology company, Ron Cohen brings his considerable entrepreneurial talents to the P&S cause, also serving on the Columbia-Presbyterian Health Sciences Advisory Council and as a chair of its Basic Sciences Committee. Just as he tries to foster a gut-level sense of vested interest in his clients, vendors, and collaborators, so too does he appeal to a feeling of loyalty when communicating with classmates. Furthermore, he sees supporting P&S as “a solid investment in our educational franchise. We all benefit in numerous ways from the school’s continuing strength and its ever rising reputation.”
“It’s a lot of fun to take the relatively little time and trouble to personalize fund letters to classmates,” says Kirby. “It’s also satisfying,” says Cohen, “to feel that you’re contributing to something larger than yourself, something worthwhile that will ultimately benefit society and you.” Urging other class chairs to do the same, he also cautions classes that accept his challenge: “It will be the intention of the Class of 1981 to consistently come out at the top of the list, regardless!”
As Cohen readily admits: “If we didn’t enjoy some element of competitiveness we probably never would have gotten into P&S.”