Rick Cohen: 'A tireless protector of integrity and reason in civil society'

Third Sector pays tribute to its former US columnist, who died recently

Rick Cohen
Rick Cohen

Our US correspondent, Rick Cohen, has died unexpectedly at his home in Virginia at the age of 64. He had recently had a fall while walking his dog, and a tribute in The Washington Post said the cause of his death was a pulmonary embolism.

Rick, who was national correspondent for the Nonprofit Quarterly in Boston, Massachusetts, had since July last year been writing his Letter from America in this space in exchange for Third Sector contributions to NPQ. He provided a lively, well-informed, insight into aspects of US charity life that might strike a chord with the Third Sector readership. Recently he wrote about the non-profits that oppose restrictions on firearms and the difficulties US charities face in paying the minimum wage.

Rick joined NPQ in 2006 after almost eight years as the executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog of philanthropic activity in the US. He was in trouble in high school for writing a critique of the Vietnam War and, after graduation, spent more than 25 years as a community worker and then director of the Jersey City Department of Housing and Economic Development.

The editors of NPQ said: "Rick will be remembered for his integrity, powerful and nimble intellect, unyielding courage in pursuit of truth, commitment to social justice and humour."

Among the many tributes on NPQ's website, Buzz Schmidt, founder of Guidestar, the database of non-profit information, wrote: "Rick was a tireless, unfathomably productive protector of integrity and reason in civil society. He exposed malfeasance, spoke truth to power and revealed, in lucid prose, the workings, inconsistencies and implications of complex proposals and policies."

After the Paris attacks on 13 November, Rick wrote in NPQ about the refusal of the governors of numerous states to accept Syrian refugees. In an article published after his death, he wrote: "This is yet another of those issues that non-profits might hope to dodge as someone else's concern and priority - but it's not. If the US slams the door on desperate Syrian refugees, the non-profit sector that claims to represent openness, inclusion and democracy will find its credibility seriously damaged should it fail to do whatever it can to confront the politicians using fear and hatred as a tool for political advancement."

Rick will be much missed. He is survived by his daughter Eleanor, his fiancee Ellen Giordano, her daughter Eve - and his dog, Murphy.

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