Arlan P. Cohn, U. City alum, physician, author dies at 90

Arlan P. Cohn, M.D.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

First, full disclosure: Arlan P. Cohn, the subject of this obituary, was my beloved older brother, mentor and protector for all of my 81 years, so please don’t expect this story to be fully “objective.” 

It will contain the facts but will be interwoven with some personal memories of my big brother, who was nine years older than me. Here goes.  

Dr. Arlan P. Cohn, a retired physician and author of several popular humorous books based on his medical practice as well as a St. Louis native who moved to San Francisco area, died Friday, Jan. 15 at an assisted living facility in Oakland, Calif.  He was 90 and had been in frail health in recent months, according to his son, Ted Cohn. His death was peaceful and painless, family members said. “He just closed his eyes and passed away in his sleep,” said his daughter, Jenny Cohn. 

Arlan Price Cohn was born Sept. 14, 1930, the eldest of two sons of Harold and Lillian DeWoskin Cohn, at a time marked by the Great Depression, the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party to power in Germany and the election of the forward-looking Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the United States. FDR’s soaring rhetoric and Hitler’s chilling rants formed the soundtrack of Arlan’s formative years.  

After living for a time on Fountain Avenue in North St. Louis near Page and Easton, now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, the family moved to University City where they joined Congregation Shaare Emeth where spiritual leader, Rabbi Julius Gordon, gave sermons in a distinctive voice that inspired the entire community. Arlan was proud to be a member of the Confirmation Class of 1945.  He could also do a spot-on imitation of the rabbi — funny but respectful — which he recorded on a vinyl disk.  

Also at Shaare Emeth Arlan was a member of the legendary Boy Scout Troop 90, where he became an Eagle Scout.  

Arlan enjoyed his days in the University City School District at Delmar-Harvard Elementary, Luther T. Ward Junior High and University City High School. He was elected student body president and graduated in 1948.  

He was a 1952 pre-med graduate of Washington University. 

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In 1955, he married Joan Treiman, who assisted him in his office and edited several of his books.  She preceded him in death in March 2008. 

Arlan started his medical education at the University of Missouri Medical School when it was a two-year school. He went on to earn his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Iowa Medical School in 1956. Arlan served as an army captain in Okinawa, Japan. After he completed his medical service, he and Joan moved to El Cerrito, Calif. in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Arlan practiced medicine as an internist in Berkeley, Calif. for over 50 years.  

In addition to his passion for medicine, Arlan loved to write, especially humorous pieces.  

At Washington University, where he was mentored by founding Hillel Director Rabbi Robert P. Jacobs, Arlan was editor of the Hillel Hello publication. 

He was fond of snappy clever headlines like, “Rabbi to speak on sects at parties.” I enjoyed being with Arlan as he toiled over the Hillel paper where he taught me how to proofread and planted the seed of my own interest in the splendid agony of journalism. 

While in medical school, he wrote several humorous articles for the national Journal of the American Medical Student, including “Snow White and the Seven Pituitary Dwarfs” and “Footloose and Fancy Fee.”   

In San Francisco he became a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle

Arlan was the author of several humorous books on his medical practice, published by the prestigious Ten Speed Press, including “Kill as Few Patients as Possible,” which is still in print. Other books, which he wrote under the pseudonym Oscar London, include “Take One as Needed” and “Dr. Generic Will See You Now.”  Among the nuggets of wit and wisdom in these books are:  “If you think you’re indispensable, check your appointment book a week after you die” and “Death is very still, so keep moving.” He also advises, “Stay away from restaurants with skinny chefs.” 

Arlan and Joan had two children, a son, Ted Cohn (Diane) and daughter, Jenny Cohn (Mike Dicke) and four grandchildren. 

Following his retirement Arlan moved to an assisted living facility in Oakland, Calif., where he met Rohilah Guy, whom he married in 2019.    

I was blessed to be Arlan’s little brother Bobby.  I was like his mini-me and he took me everywhere with him. To this day his friends ask me, “Are you that little kid Arlan used to schlep everywhere?”  Yes I am that kid who was blessed with an amazing big brother. 

A private service is planned.  

Contributions in Arlan Cohn’s memory may be made to Congregation Shaare Emeth, the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, the Anti-Defamation League or the charity of the donor’s choice.