Remembering former AAN President Maynard M. Cohen, MD, FAAN, and his lasting legacy with the Academy. Read Dr. Cohen's 2012 oral archive transcript.
- In Memoriam: Maynard M. Cohen, MD, FAAN
Maynard M. Cohen, MD, PhD, FAAN, one of the last survivors of the early days of the AAN and president of the Academy from 1981 to 1983, passed away on February 18, 2014, with his daughters by his side, after a long period of declining health. He was 93.
The winner of numerous accolades, including the AAN's first Distinguished Service Award in 1989, Cohen was at the forefront of developing the field of neuroscience internationally as well as in the United States. During his long, productive career, he worked with the National Institutes of Health and the Fulbright Awards committee; conducted research in Norway, Italy, and the UK; and lectured in more than 20 countries. His prolific publication record included over 100 landmark scholarly articles, editorship of numerous neuroscience monographs and texts, and principal authorship and editorial oversight of The First Fifty Years, an anthology documenting the history of the American Academy of Neurology. He also authored Biochemistry of Neural Disease (1975), edited 14 volumes of the Karger Press series Monographs in the Neural Sciences (1972-1990), and served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the AAN's Neurology®.
Cohen's interest in neurology emerged while serving as a US Army pathologist during the WWII occupation of Korea—directing the Army pathology laboratory and serving at the 34th General Hospital near Seoul. While in Korea, he became fascinated with the pathology of the brain and spinal cord and set his sights on a career in neuropathology. Following his discharge from service in early 1948, he briefly led the pathology department at Women's Hospital in Detroit, MI, before joining the University of Minnesota to begin a neuropathology residency program at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Hospital under the direction of A.B. Baker, MD—who was launching the AAN at that time.
Given Baker's legendary persuasive powers ("He pushed me with a sledgehammer," Cohen recalled in a 2012 interview), it was not surprising that Cohen's involvement with the AAN was early and committed. He helped prepare teaching slides and lectured in the AAN's first special course at the Annual Meeting under the direction of Fae Tichy, MD, of the University of Minnesota. He later chaired the Special Courses Committee and the Placement Committee, and was a member of the International Affairs Committee and Ethics and Humanities Subcommittee.
After completing his pathology residency in 1949, Cohen began a residency in neurology and accepted an appointment at the University as an instructor in neuropathology. He spent 1951-52 in Norway, under a grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation for research at the University of Oslo, where he worked closely with Georg Monrad-Krohn and Sigvald Refsum and also taught neuropathology to medical residents. Following his return to the University of Minnesota, he earned a PhD in neurochemistry in 1953.
Throughout the next decade on the Minnesota neurology faculty, Cohen spent considerable time in Europe-working with Sir Ernst Chain in the neurochemistry laboratory at the University of London's Institute of Psychiatry, in Rome at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, and returning frequently to the University of Oslo to continue work with Refsum and Monrad-Krohn. Cohen also spent three years directing an NINDS award for neurochemistry training program and another for a cerebrovascular research center.
In 1963, Cohen moved to Chicago to head the Neurology department at Presbyterian-St Luke's Hospital (later to become Rush University Medical Center) and to direct the neurology division at the University of Illinois where he was also appointed professor of pharmacology at the School of Medicine. At Presbyterian-St. Luke's, he was the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Jean Schweppe Armour Chair of Neurology—the first endowed chair at any private hospital in the country. In addition to serving as chair of neurological sciences at Rush, he also held professorships there in biochemistry and preventive medicine.
His term as president of the AAN in the early 1980s was marked by several challenges, including the transition of the executive director position from terminally ill Stanley Nelson to Jan Kolehmainen, and the need to find new space for the growing staff of eight at the AAN's headquarters. The AAN was lagging behind the services provided by other specialty societies, and Cohen and the board of directors recognized the need for the AAN to grow and strengthen its support of its members. After giving some consideration to moving to Washington, DC, the board shifted the headquarters from suburban Edina, MN, to a large office building adjacent the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. But Cohen's greatest impact on the Academy and its members was the expansion of programming for the Annual Meeting.
Christopher Goetz, MD, FAAN, who knew Cohen for many years as a neurology resident and fellow faculty member at Rush University Medical Center, said, "To AAN members, Maynard's legacy is primarily his encouragement of the expanded educational offerings at our Annual Meetings. Originally, the AAN meeting had a few full-day courses on neuropharmacology, neurophysiology, and neuropathology, all with a small and restricted faculty. Maynard envisioned an expansion of programs that today have evolved into not only full-day courses, but also half-day courses, breakfast, dinner, and after-dinner seminars, allowing a wide array of choices and most importantly, a wide array of faculty to participate in educational efforts and to keep members up-to-date on the gamut of contemporary neurological challenges."
Cohen took the reins at the AAN when there were concerns among practicing neurologists that the Academy had lost sight of them and their needs. One of the advocates for the practicing members, Nelson G. Richards, MD, FAAN, was chosen president elect to succeed Cohen. In a 2012 interview with Goetz, Cohen recalled: "He helped with the people who were the doctors, not the researchers. They realized that the AAN had something for the doctors too. He went everywhere with me. He never missed anything. His final word was, ‘Anybody who tries to get between us will hear about it.’”
Cohen's mediation skills were put to use to bring together warring universities that were competing over prime candidates for the specialty. The outcome was the Association of University Professors of Neurology, founded in 1967 with Cohen as the president. He was also instrumental integrating the humanities into medical education. With his wife, author Doris Vidaver, he developed the Humanities program at Rush University under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Throughout Cohen's career, his work in Norway held particular significance. His recognition there included appointment as Corresponding Honorary Member of the Norwegian Neurological Society, election to the elite Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in 1982—a singular honor for non-Norwegian—and the Crown Princess Marte Fellowship for research on the experiences of Norwegian neurologists and other physicians during the German occupation of Norway during WWII. This research culminated in his critically acclaimed book "A Stand Against Tyranny: Norway's Physicians and the Nazis" (1997, Wayne State University Press).
Cohen was born in 1920, in Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1941 from the University of Michigan and his medical degree in 1944 from Wayne State University while serving in the US Army. He received several distinguished alumni awards from Wayne State, and in 2000, to commemorate his numerous contributions to the field, the Medical School inaugurated the Maynard M. Cohen, MD, PhD, Endowed Lectureship in Neurology on the occasion of his 80 th birthday. Memorial donations to the lectureship can be made out to Wayne State University, School of Medicine (include "Maynard Cohen Endowed Lectureship" in the memo line).
Cohen is survived by his wife, daughters Deborah Vidaver-Cohen and Elena (Nini) Cohen, and two grandsons.
Learn how the AAN, like neurology itself, has evolved from a rich and fascinating past.
- The mission
The American Academy of Neurology, founded in 1948, is an international professional association of more than 27,000 neurologists and neuroscientists.
It is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care and enhancing member career satisfaction.
The AAN's vision is to be indispensable to its members by providing guidance and inspiration through education, information, policy development, and advocacy for our members and their patients, while maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards.
The Academy was founded in 1948 by A.B. Baker, MD, chair of the neurology department of the University of Minnesota. This was done in response to the difficulties of one of his residents, Joseph Resch, MD, in finding a society to continue his education and network with fellow neurologists.
Baker was aided by Adolph L. Sahs, MD, of the University of Iowa; Francis M. Forster, MD, of Jefferson Medical Hospital in Philadelphia; and Russell DeJong, MD, of the University of Michigan.
Baker served as the first Academy president, and Forster and Sahs later had terms as president. DeJong was the founding editor-in-chief of the journal Neurology®, which began publication in 1951. The AAN had 52 charter members.
The establishment of the Academy, coupled with the increased need for neurologists following World War II, helped elevate the status of neurology as a practice distinct from psychiatry. In 1947, there were between 300 and 325 physicians in the United States who designated themselves as primary neurologists, and there were only 32 residency positions available nationwide.
By 1970, there were 2,727 primary neurologists and some 700 residents in training. By the end of 2012, the Academy had more than 22,000 neurologist members in the United States, as well as 4,000 international members.
- Listen to Early Leaders on AAN History
Efforts are underway to preserve the history of modern neurology and the role of the AAN in supporting the profession
Former AAN President Joseph Foley, MD, FAAN, was interviewed by historian Barbara Sommer and Douglas J. Lanska, MD, FAAN
On December 8, 2011, Douglas J. Lanska, MD, FAAN, past chair of the AAN History Section and consulting historian Barbara Sommer interviewed former President Joseph Foley, MD, FAAN at his home in Cleveland. Foley passed away in July 2012.
Sommer and Heidi L. Roth, MD, interviewed Canadian neuroscientist Brenda Milner, CC, OQ, DSc, PhD, a pioneer in the field of neuropsychology and cognitive functions.
Milner, age 93, remains active in her research at the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University.
- Suggest future History interviews
- The History Section will select prospective interview subjects on an annual basis. To suggest someone, contact Peter J. Koehler, MD, PhD, FAAN, leader of the Oral History Work Group.