Barry Cohen – Michael Danby remembers

December 18, 2017 by Michael Danby
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The sad news of the passing of Barry Cohen AM in a nursing home in Goulburn NSW came after a lengthy period of illness.

Barry Cohen – The Minister

Barry was a Member of Parliament, a Minister in the Hawke Government, a celebrated author and newspaper columnist, but first and foremost Barry was a husband and father.

Barry served as the Federal Member for Robertson on the NSW Central Coast for 21 years (1969-1990), a lengthy parliamentary term, which bears testament to both his hard work, and also popularity with his local constituency.

During his distinguished parliamentary career Barry served in the Hawke Government, first as a Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment (1983-1984) and then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Environment (1984-1987) (I should declare an interest: this is the period where I worked for him). As a tribute to his services to the Australian Parliament and the community for over two decades, Barry was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2007.

But I best knew him as a great fighter for the heart and soul of Australian Labor.

Barry Cohen, the late Dick Klugman, the late Senator John Wheeldon and Joe Berinson MP, were part of the dominant moderate, sensible supporters of the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments. Cohen and his colleagues ‘centred’ the Labor Party so that it was always in the mainstream Australian life, whether it be in Opposition or in Government. Cohen like the dominant moderates in Australian Labor are horrified at the decline of British Labor into a pit of far left madness.

Michael Danby with Barry Cohen

Retiring from Federal Parliament in 1990, Barry was the author of three amusing books on former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

For over 20 years Barry was a columnist for The Australian, the Bulletin and other major daily’s and magazines, as well as being the author of eight best sellers. His column in the Bulletin on his murdered family the Kozerwoders was a searing insight into the destruction of Jewish life in Europe. His 1987 autobiography The Life Of The Party in particular displayed for all what was widely known as Barry’s legendary sense of humour. The same can be found in his books on former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam that he authored after retiring in 1990, Life With Gough (1996), From Whitlam to Winston (1997) and The Almost Complete Gough (2001).

Some of his columns are remembered as almost prophetic. For instance, Cohen wrote a 1992 column in The Australian, long before Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and his non-consultative style became infamous. Barry met Rudd when he was the head of Queensland Premier Wayne Goss’s office. He was not impressed. For years I used to argue with him about Rudd’s merits. Barry was right and I was wrong. (Of all the profiles of Prime Minister Rudd, Cohen’s portrait was the only one that made PM Rudd physically blanche.)

Barry was proudest of his achievements for the environment, as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said today;

“…he helped safeguard some of Australia’s greatest natural wonders for future generations, including Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu.”

I was fortunate to know Barry as a friend, and also as a former employer. After Barry retired, he remained a close friend and confidant.

I was sure I can say without contradiction that:
“Barry’s loyal staff, friends and colleagues appreciated his great sense of humour which gave some perspective to the inevitable ups and downs of politics. He was one of the great after dinner speakers in his post-parliamentary career and his book of political anecdotes earn him a reputation as a chronicler of the funny side of the sometimes grimy vocation of politics.”

“Most especially and for decades he was also an icon in the Australian Jewish community. He was a lifelong, passionate but moderate supporter of Israel. The fate of his European family, the Kozerwoders during the Shoah was a searing influence on his life so he wrote”

Today Dr Sergio Sergi, Minister Cohen’s beloved principal advisor said;

Barry Cohen Photo: Henry Benjamin

“Barry was unique as he never showed any malice towards even those who showed it to him, he was loyal to the Party and always to his friends who were legion. His office was a happy work place but above all, every human foible was interpreted by Barry with a sense of humour and great compassion.”

Barry proved to Australian’s that his passion for the Environment portfolio was more than just political lip service. He poured his life’s savings into developing, over a 20 year period, a wildlife sanctuary dedicated to the protection and preservation of Australian flora and fauna in the NSW Central Coast.

In the last few years, when Cohen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Barry tackled it as a policy challenge, not a personal struggle. He did not go gentle in that good night, instead, assisted by his right hand man, his son Adam, he took up the fight on behalf of every Australian living with dementia, urging politicians from all sides to deliver a better deal for older Australians.

Dr Sergi, Senate candidate Peter Conway and I all visited their former boss in his nursing home in Canberra some months ago to farewell Barry. “We are all so glad, we came together from all over Australia to made the road trip” Danby said. “Barry was very emotional but lucid enough for us all to give loving goodbye.”

Barry will be greatly missed by all who were fortunate enough to have known him. A man who lived his life in the same way he served his community and country, with dignity and honour.

Barry is survived by his wife Rae, and their three sons Stuart, Adam and Martin.

A private Jewish funeral service will be held shortly, followed by a State Memorial Service in the new year. His burial is being organised by Rabbi Shmueli Feldman of Chabad of the ACT who together with supporters of mine and of Chabad have made this very difficult time for the Cohen family a little easier and ensured his buried and remembered in our Jewish tradition.

His memory is a blessing.

The Hon Michael Danby MP was the Parliamentary Secretary in the former Labor Government

Barry Cohen   Born Griffith NSW April 3rd, 1935

Died: December 18th, 2017

Comments

3 Responses to “Barry Cohen – Michael Danby remembers”
  1. Marcus Einfeld says:

    Barry was a loyal & supportive friend to me as he was to so many. Many years ago & on several occasions he said publicly that I should enter Parliament with the certain result, he said, that I would become Prime Minister. When I responded that I had no ambitions of that kind, Barry said that Australia was doomed to oblivion by my callous rejection of what he thought was my duty to my country. Such was Barry’s capacity to make fun of anything and everything.

    I visited him at his Bungendore home when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We had a fun time over a sandwich & a cup of tea as he sought to demonstrate that the diagnosis & people’s observations were the inevitable consequence of the invasion of Australia by people and ideas from a far off galaxy. Subsequently we talked a few times on the telephone from his nursing home but sadly not much meaningful communication was possible.

    Barry’s contribution to the community was immense, his humour unique, his generosity of spirit of legendary proportions. His personal friendship to me will always be with me.

  2. Marcus Einfeld says:

    Barry was a loyal & supportive friend to me as he was to so many. Many years ago & on several occasions he said publicly that I should enter Parliament with the certain result, he said, that I would become Prime Minister. When I responded that I had no ambitions of that kind, Barry said that Australia was doomed to oblivion by my callous rejection of what he thought was my duty to my country. Such was an indication of his capacity to make fun of anything and everything.

    I visited him at his Bungendore home when he was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We had a fun time over a sandwich & a cup of tea as he sought to demonstrate that the diagnosis & people’s observations were the consequences of the invasion of Australia by people and ideas from a far off galaxy. Subsequently we talked a few times on the telephone from his nursing home but sadly not much meaningful communication was possible.

    Barry’s contribution to the community was immense, his humour unique, his generosity of spirit of legendary proportions. His personal kindnesses to me will always be with me.

  3. Robert Schneider says:

    Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet. Barry was a friend of mine from the moment I arrived in Australia 19 years ago. We shared a mutual love and respect for our natural heritage and also the ability to have a good laugh. Heartfelt condolences to Rae, Stuart, Adam & Martin. Barry leaves a legacy that will always be an inspiration and a blessing. Shalom my dear friend. Rest in Peace.

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