Like Mother, Like Son
Village Voice: Helen and David Cohen
In 1944, when FDR's campaign limousine made its way down Boston's Blue Hill Avenue, Helen Berow was there, waving.
In 1998, when her son, David, was first elected mayor of Newton, MA, Helen Berow Cohen was on the steps of Newton City Hall, waving.
These days when she waves goodbye to her son, it's from her Lasell Village apartment. And she's likely to be rushing off to a pottery class.
Like most adult children, David Cohen was concerned about his widowed mother when the time came for her to move from the Newton Centre home where she'd raised him and his brother, Jerry, a Florida gerontologist. And, like most offspring of Lasell Village residents, David has happily put those concerns to rest.
"The supportive human interaction that Mom so enjoys is supplied in ample amounts by her new friends at the Village," he tells Leaves. "The Village is a testament to the fact that even if you've lived a lot of years, you can still be very much a part of life. In fact, it is because of those years that each Village resident brings a unique perspective to the community. And it is enriching for people of all ages to experience those perspectives."
That healthy mix is what David, his wife, Laura, and his mother, Helen, agree is "the Village's greatest strength and strongest selling point." And what sealed the deal for Helen to choose it over other senior living facilities the Cohens considered.
A Dorchester native who grew up "playing tennis at Franklin Field and taking Saturday classes at the MFA," Helen Cohen is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art who has never stopped creating. Her handsome graphite, Chinese ink, pastel and watercolor works line her sunny Seminary Avenue apartment, along with photographs of her three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Though modest about her own talent, the spirited arts enthusiast is always eager to discuss art and culture, and to learn more.
She and her late husband, Herbert, "had a full life for 66 years," Helen says. "We traveled and enjoyed the theatre and museums." And, she assures, she still has a full life, though in a different way.
A self-described "very private person," Helen plays classical piano, "especially Beethoven Sonatas, and especially "Pathetique," and loves the lifestyle at Lasell Village.
"You're free to be alone here, if you choose to," she tells Leaves, "and free to be with people if you don't."
Her son loves her lifestyle there, as well.
After serving as a Newton Alderman (1972-79), State Representative (1979-97) and Mayor of Newton (1998-2009), David Cohen retired from public service and the practice of law in 2009. He now spends time writing, traveling with his wife and enjoying their two young grandchildren.
"When I left public life, I was delighted that President Michael Alexander asked me to serve on the Lasell Board of Overseers," he tells Leaves. "I'd worked with Michael on several issues and was impressed with his vision for the College as well as his sensitivity in addressing the concerns of the surrounding Auburndale neighborhood.
Coincidentally, Cohen's political career path and the path of Lasell crossed at several points. "Although I was not involved with the creation of Lasell Village, I was mayor of Newton at its grand opening in 2000," he says. "On that occasion, I expressed the hope that one day the complex might be considered Newton's 15th village."
For several hundred engaged seniors, including his mother, it is exactly that.
Helen Cohen still draws and paints daily. Ditto playing her beloved classical music on the piano that commands a cozy corner of her living room. And she still has daily contact with her son . . . as well as the many new friends she's made at Lasell Village.
"When she was living alone in our family home she would call me several times daily just to talk. And I would also call her every morning," son David says. "One morning, after she'd been at the Village for two weeks, I put in the daily call and started chatting. Mom promptly interrupted me. ‘"David," she said, "I'd love to talk, but I'm late for class."'
At that moment, David Cohen says, "I knew that my mother was not only safe, but happy."