Please share your favorite stories and memories of Bert below.  In your tribute, please share how you know Bert.

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Collected Tributes

International Psychoanalysis Community – Nathan M. Szajnberg, MD and Robert M. Galatzer-Levy, MD

Remembering Bert – Amy Myers, Class of 2013, University of Chicago


42 Responses to Tributes

  1. Genevieve Jurgensen says:

    I met Bert in the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, in the first days of December 1970. I started working with him a few days later, as a young counselor, and saw him every day til I left for France in June 1971. I will remember him in this very challenging part of his professional life, when he had to take over Dr Bruno Bettelheim’s job, which would have been an impossible task for anyone. No matter how difficult it may have been, Bert showed that he was a warm person, truly dedicated to the kids at the School and ready to face all the ambivalent feelings of the staff. I am very sorry that he will never be an old man enjoying his grand-children and continuing to teach, learn, read, listen and discover, as he loved to.

    • Mary C. says:

      I am sorry to see that Bert’s obituaries failed to mention that he is survived by his younger sister, Betsy Lemal, of Minneapolis, MN. Because of his inablilty to resolve his long-standing (dating from childhood) isues with Betsy (7 years his junior), they were estranged for many years. Betsy continued to love Bert and hope that some day they could reconcile. Bert was unable to do so, so it never happened.

  2. Jefferson Singer says:

    I would like to share what I wrote about Bert to the members of the Society of Personology.

    I was surprised and deeply saddened to learn of Bert’s death. I knew that he had had complications in his recovery from surgery and subsequent treatment, but I somehow believed that he would get through all this. I think that I did not want to believe that it could take this fatal turn. When I joined Personology in the mid-90s, Bert was one of the most welcoming of the more established members. I am sure everyone would share this feeling – he actually read and thought deeply about each member’s work. He was encouraging, but also challenging with constructive suggestions. He would mention connections to philosophy, sociology, and history, as well seeming to know everything and everyone in psychology. I relished Bert’s mentoring of me over the years – there was always that moment when I might be with him at a meeting and he was introducing me to someone else. He would inevitably say something like, “Oh this is Jefferson Singer, you really ought to read his….” He was such a champion of personology – of qualitative methods, interpretive analysis, and the study of lives.

    In the last couple of years I had to travel to Chicago each summer for my work with the Posse Scholarship Program and this afforded me the opportunity to have dinners with Bert, Jim, and Dan. These evenings of conversation were precious to me, and Bert’s stories were always a centerpiece of the night. He was extraordinarily gracious and concerned about my father’s ongoing struggle with cancer. When Bert became ill, both my father and I were able to speak with him after his surgery to give him encouragement and hope. Even after this initial period of recovery, Bert was able to rally and come to Washington DC and provide the introduction to my Henry Murray Award address. My wife was at the talk and had never met Bert. Afterwards, she turned to me and said, “What a kind, kind man!” I agreed, but I also added that he is completely brilliant. I will never forget that wonderful smile of his – with the gold tooth showing – somehow goofy and loving all at once. May his memory be a blessing!

  3. Thomas F says:

    I am proud to say I had an entire rotation of Soc with Bert, as well as six other courses, an independent study, and wrote my thesis with him. I am lucky to have shared many lunches and meals with Bert, as well, who always loved to share ideas over food. I truthfully have never met a man who was more well read in my entire life. He was a shy man, but incredibly funny if you listened carefully—there was always a little humor in things. Bert cared so much about students, he truly had no personal life separate from his students. He really blended the two. I love him dearly, and I will miss him.

  4. Laura F says:

    I took a class on adolescent development with Bert my senior year. I had heard many wonderful things about his classes, and I quickly found that I was not the only one eagerly anticipating it–the first day was sheer insanity. 65+ students in a tiny seminar room, sitting/crouching/standing quietly, all hoping to be pink-slipped in. (I was hugely grateful that I had priority as a 4th year psych major.) From day one of that class, I deeply admired his intelligence and dedication to his work: he was over 70, but still teaching, counseling, writing papers, and working as an LGBTQ advocate. It sounds like an exaggeration, but he really did inspire to me to work harder; there he was, older than my grandparents, serenely balancing dozens of demands with utmost poise, while, at the time, I considered it a minor personal victory if I made it out the door without forgetting something critical. Quite simply, he amazed me and made me want to do better. If, at 70, I can grasp a fraction of his productivity and strength, I will consider myself truly blessed.

  5. Dave Pickett says:

    Many people have left memories of Bert on this UChicago Facebook post:

  6. Joshua Kellman says:

    When I showed up for college at the University of Chicago, in 1983, I was terrified of functioning autonomously. I already wanted to be a psychoanalyst, and by sheer luck found myself in Bert’s Self, Culture, and Society sequence (affectionately referred to by the students and Bert alike as “Self-Torture and Anxiety” which it was not). Bert made me feel as if I had a parent at college, without, of course, having any of the hang-ups of my actual parents. He took a personal interest in me (and, of course many others) and made me feel that I had a place and a contribution there.

    I took a number of other college classes (and, later classes at the psychoanalytic institute) with Bert, and in these I was not only awed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge, but inspired to think deeply about issues in psychoanalysis and the human sciences. Bert was always fostering and nourishing, while at the same time being very respectful of my autonomy. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that Bert taught me how to think and how to write. He radically shaped my intellectual outlook.

    In our last year of college, my roommate and best friend, Dave Rocah, and I took an independent study with Bert. As was typical with both of us, we put off grappling with it until quite late in the game. We let Bert know we were cutting it close. He told us we could bring the paper to his house by a certain hour (well after finals week) by which he had to turn grades in. If we brought it after that, he would give us a B. We brought it over about an hour after the deadline. We told ourselves that we had been so rushed we knew it was a B paper anyway, so we would just live with the B. He had given us an A. Partly because I felt so guilty about this, and partly because I was so ambivalent about having graduated from college, I rewrote the entire paper the summer after I graduated. I never showed it to Bert, but I think I got it to an A paper.

    My father reminded me that when I graduated from college we threw a party at our apartment. Bert came to the party, and my father approached him to thank him for being such an amazing mentor to me. Apparently, Bert would hear nothing of it, completely dismissing his role and focusing instead on me. Bert was truly selfless.

    Like with many others, Bert kept up with me. Ever since college, he and I would eat dinner together once or twice a year. I so looked forward to and enjoyed those dinners, not only because I found Bert’s thinking so insightful and useful, but because each time it was a kind of narcissistic replenishing (also, he insisted on paying, long after I could afford to). I think Bert did that for everyone.

    I will dearly miss Bert. He has played a huge role in shaping me intellectually, professionally, and personally. I am so lucky and grateful to have had such a mentor. I hope that Bert’s sons and his partner are doing okay, and I extend my deepest condolences to them.

    Josh Kellman

  7. Jessi says:

    I took one quarter-long class with Bert, the first of the core classes for the Human Development major (which I later decided not to pursue, by no means due to Bert’s masterful teaching.) Even though I only spent eleven short weeks under his tutelage, Bert surprised me after Convocation, darting across the Quad to congratulate me on my graduation… by name. This man touched hundreds, if not thousands, of young lives, and he still remembered exactly who I was after only a few weeks in class together. I think this says everything about who Bert was, and he will always be a very important part of my memories of the College.

    • khahmed says:

      I got my PhD from Human Development but only took the one core class with Bert. I don’t study the same things as him, so our paths rarely crossed while I was a student, except for at department functions. I stayed in Chicago after graduation and would sometimes visit the department. I probably saw Bert more then than when I was a student! It also surprised me that he always remembered me and always knew where I was professionally. He was a wonderful man.

  8. Larry and Susan Gianinno says:

    We are so sorry to hear about Bert’s passing. Susan and I did not know that he had been seriously ill. Some special people, like Bert—especially when you don’t see them for a while—are ageless in our minds—they have become veritable icons of the institutions to which they committed the purpose, vitality, and talents of their lifetimes. To hear that Bert has passed away is a new reality that takes some getting used to.

  9. Faye H. Nazon says:

    We were Bert’s neighbors for over 38 years. Our children grew up together. I have known him as a good and considerate person. He often inquired about my grand-children. We kept up with Bert through out his illness. When we received the message that he had passed I was devasted. It is still very surreal to me. WOW!!!!!!!! after all this time living next door to him and to know he want be back is sad.
    Faye H. Nazon

  10. Tracy Dunning says:

    As a parent of a student who just transferred to UChicago Fall ’11, my acquaintance with this remarkable man was short. Our daughter quickly decided to major in Comparative Human Development and was lucky to have had Bert as a professor for her first quarter at UChicago and his last quarter teaching. What a wonderful opportunity! And on Parents’ Weekend, I attended his presentation and sat right next to him while we had a small group discussion. He was a memorable man even with only a brief time shared and I feel blessed that our paths crossed. What an impact he had in his long life!

  11. Julia Kindt says:

    Bert was a very generous and supportive senior fellow in the Chicago Society of Fellows and always offered much encouragement for young colleagues.

  12. Robert LeVine says:

    Bert’s death is such terrible news. We didn’t know Bert was ill, and it’s awful to think he’s no longer with us. We hadn’t seen him since 2008, but we had a chance to catch up then, and I can hardly believe he’s no longer with us. I will contact Henry Grunebaum, a psychoanalyst and family therapist with whom Bert worked here at Harvard before going to Chicago.

  13. Susan Levine says:

    I will miss Bert’s presence as a colleague in the Departments of Psychology and Comparative Human Development. He was a wise presence among us, always supportive, always generous. His love of teaching stood as an outstanding example to all of us. He will be missed and remembered.

  14. Jim Anderson says:

    This note is a variation of the email I sent out to faculty and students of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. Bert Cohler’s death is an immense loss to the Chicago psychoanalytic community. There are many people associated with the Institute who cared greatly for him, myself included. He was one of the two key figures for me while I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and we became close friends in the years afterwards. My experience with him is representative of that of many other people; he nurtured us as students and as professionals and as people. I realize now that I took him for granted. I admired and loved him, but it seemed as if he had always there and always would be. Now I can see how extraordinary he was, how unlike anyone else I’ve ever known.
    He was one of the leading psychoanalytic writers. His prodigious output was a major contribution to scholarship. His passion was for the study of the individual life, and he used his fine appreciation for the life of the single person as a way of illuminating our understanding of larger social and cultural issues. In recent years, after he came out publicly about being gay, he focused especially on the lives of gay people. He played a major role in psychoanalysis eventually achieving an enlightened view toward homosexuality. An important step that culminated and celebrated this development was the publication of the 2002 volume of the Annual of Psychoanalysis on the topic, “Rethinking Psychoanalysis and the Homosexualities,” of which Bert was the Guest Editor and I was the Associate Editor (with Jerry Winer as the Editor). Due to Bert’s life-long interest in how people coped with adversity, he had been studying the Holocaust, again, looking at the experience of individuals and radiating out from there to shine light on society-wide concerns.
    Although he was involved in more activities than anyone else I know, he found time to serve the Institute for Psychoanalysis in countless ways. He played a central role in at least five areas at the Institute, so much so, that each of these areas will be hobbled in its attempt to go on without Bert: the teaching of those studying to become psychoanalysts; the training of child and adolescent psychoanalysts and psychotherapists; a program to serve children in Chicago schools; the research function of the Institute; and the committee on conferences and continuing education (which I chair).
    The latter committee is a place where we were reliant on his vast knowledge to help us find the best speakers throughout the country. Everyone recognized that he knew the psychoanalytic literature better than anyone else. He had an equally comprehensive mastery of the literature in many areas of psychology. I asked him once how he became familiar with so much writing, and he told me that he slept very little, about four hours per night, and often spent much of the night reading.
    I’ll always be grateful that I had a chance to visit him three days before his death. Due to his condition, he could not talk much (he just could mouth a few words), but he listened with great interest as I brought him up to date on what was happening at the psychoanalytic institute and in some other areas of shared interest. He was keen to hear everything I told him and expressed his hope that we would handle our current challenges at the Institute. He cared deeply for the Institute.
    I observed his emotional responsiveness as I talked on and on during that visit. For example, when I spoke of one particular problem at the Institute, he had a stricken expression on his face and asked whether I thought it would be solved (I said I believed it would be). Bert had a magnificent mind; he was one of the most intelligent people any of us ever met. But it is easy to miss what a deeply feeling, caring, loving person he also was.
    It happened that Bert had another visitor while I was there, John Lucy, who is the chair of Bert’s home department at the University of Chicago, the Department of Comparative Human Development. I heard John filling Bert in on the happenings in the Department. It was clear that Bert was incredibly central to the workings of the Department and that they were struggling with his absence and couldn’t wait to have him back. Certain committees and courses and programs relied on Bert, and it was a struggle to carry them on while Bert was ill. The word I keep thinking of in relation to Bert is that he will be irreplaceable. It struck me that he played just as pivotal a role in Comparative Human Development as he did at the Institute for Psychoanalysis. And no doubt there were other areas where he also was “the necessary man,” such as the gay mental health community.
    As I mentioned before, Bert had a great interest in how people respond to adversity. He can be an inspiration to us as we struggle to handle the adversity that his death presents to us.

    Jim Anderson, Northwestern University and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis

  15. says:

    I am very thankful I had Bert as a professor, he was very kind and very helpful. I always recommended him to other students. He will surely be missed.

  16. Holly Johnston says:

    Bert Cohler was a part of my professional life since the very beginning. I was a young graduate student at the University of Chicago, beginning my clinical training in the Committee on Human Development, having just left a year as a counselor at the Orthogenic School. When Bert arrived as the new director and as new faculty in the clinical program, we quickly got to know each other. Even then, Bert did not treat me so much as a student but as a younger colleague. I began reading Melanie Klein because of Bert. We talked about having a course on the Narrative of a Child Analysis, that he would teach, and I would be his assistant. I met a group of analysts in Chicago who were to influence the direction of my clinical career from then on. Bert invited me to attend the consultation seminars that Alfred Flarsheim was giving weekly at the Orthogenic School. From there I met Gene Borowitz and Peter Giovacchini, and from there became a participant in the most stimulating educational experience of my life, a study group in psychoanalysis which provided training to those of us who could not yet attend psychoanalytic institutes because we were the wrong discipline.

    I took Bert’s courses at the U of C, I worked as his research assistant, coding TAT stories for relationship categories he had developed, I had dinner at his house and met Anne and his boys. Bert provided warm, intelligent support as one of the members of my dissertation committee. He was there when I got my Ph.D. and met my parents. He came to my wedding reception.

    Bert has always been there. Although there was a long period of time during which I only saw him occasionally, I always knew I could use him as a resource for wide-ranging questions throughout the fields of developmental psychology and psychoanalysis. Every so often, he’d send me a puzzling child to evaluate.

    Our paths crossed again more intensively when I finally decided to go for “official” analytic training at the Chicago Institute. Again, he treated me like the peer I now was. Only last January I sought him out for advice on articles to use in a class I was teaching on Object Relations—I wanted a paper that was developmentally knowledgeable yet accessible for students working with adults. He knew just the thing, published that month. As always, he was the right person to go to for such a question. Bert was always there, and though he might be a bit difficult to reach, once I found him in person or on the other end of the phone, he was available and interested. It feels strange for him not to be there any more. I will truly miss him.

    From Hyde Park, his home and mine for many years,
    Holly Johnston, Ph.D.

  17. I met Bert in 1970 as a new graduate student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Chicago. I was immediately impressed with the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He was a rarity: an intellectual with great knowledge of and commitment to psychoanalysis without in any way feeling the need to compromise his interest in and knowledge of academic psychology, especially social psychology, development, and the intersection of personality and culture. He never felt he had to choose between those academic areas and psychoanalytic understanding. He was a uniquely inclusive theorist and academic. So, I asked him to be my dissertation advisor, and he was enormously helpful to me in many ways. He more than any other single person is responsible for my pursuing psychoanalytic training and developing the kind of career I have. I owe him a great deal, and I guess I will never be able to repay him form the contributions he made to my life.
    Frank Summers
    professor of clinical psychiatry and the behavioral sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University;
    supervising and training analyst, Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis
    Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis.

  18. Brad G says:

    My deepest sympathy to the family of Bert.
    He was my Self, Culture and Society professor for a full year. He was such a kind man who respected and listened to his students. He loved teaching.

  19. I am deeply saddened to hear of Bert’s passing. To me he remains perpetually young. What a terrible loss. My condolences to his family and all of our HD friends.

  20. Kathy Warren says:

    Bert was my thesis adviser and gave me the greatest encouragement I could have received to keep studying, to pursue my dreams. Before the MLA program I would never have imagined that I could earn an advanced degree, and now I am completing coursework toward the PhD. I am so glad – and so much stronger – for having known him.

  21. Patrick Tolan says:

    Bert had a profound effect on my thinking and my career. I know I am one of very many that applies to. He had the most encyclopedic mind I have encountered and worked and lived with great heart. He defined commitment to making a difference. I will continue to use comments and phrases I learned from him and try to channel him when working to motivate students to undertake this kind of work. Thank you Bert.

  22. Harvey Goldman, Professor of Sociology, University of California, San Diego says:

    Bert was the head of Self, Culture, and Society when I joined its staff a long time ago (1979) as a second-year Harper Fellow. He was able to create an atmosphere of both intellectual rigor and collegial conviviality that I thought was exemplary. He was extremely supportive of younger faculty and supportive of our contributions and of our struggles with the material (not to speak of our students!!). He and the other faculty on the staff made my year of teaching “Soc 2” a wonderful experience, and one which I was loath to leave when I took another job. He was a terrific person, a wonderful coordinator, an inspiration, and a solid support. I grieve at his passing.

  23. With one reading course Bert merely asked that I read everything ever written about adolescent development, and then discuss with him (after, of course, I had organized it). A true scholar who challenged me and introduced me to the University of Chicago and who then became a collaborator and friend. Ken and I miss you Bert and will always remember your gifts and humor and friendship. Ritch & Ken

  24. Daniel Offer, M.D. says:

    I met Bert many decades ago. Our joint interests in human development stimulated us to apply for an NIMH training grant for pre and post docs in the field of adolescence. Bert and I directed that program for 17 years. We trained more than 70 fellows from 1976 to 1992. It was a pleasure working with Bert. If I had any question about anything in the field of psychology or human development, Bert would direct me to the source within seconds. I have never met any body who had such a wide knowledge of our field. I spent many evenings with him sharing good food and good beer and I shall miss him.

  25. In many ways, Bert was my first real teacher–certainly my first at the University of Chicago. I gave him a call as an overzealous little first year over the summer before coming to school because I saw that he held appointments in the two departments in which I wanted to study. Ironically, he got me started along a path that would change my direction from that which I originally had intended. He told me what core classes to take and snuck me into his section of Soc. First year was transformative and hence transitional, to euphemize, and Bert always understood; I made sure, reciprocally, to make whatever wait for a paper worth his while. The class was often lukewarm–I was definitely ‘that kid’ as a result–but it spoke to Bert’s prowess when football players would come up to me after class and say, “Man, this stuff is just so interesting. Do you know what other classes I can take like this?”

    Bert would sometimes see me on 57th street on weekends, while he was walking with some alum or past student of his, and introduce me as “the ideal Chicago student.” I couldn’t accept and of course I couldn’t refuse. I was confident and cared a lot (always the most important thing, as he made clear) but I was just a naïvely energetic first year. I wasn’t sure that I deserved such an attribution just yet. He wrote me a letter that really caught the eye of the co-chair of neurosurgery at Columbia, which I also wasn’t sure that I deserved. I took Bert’s trust in me as my cue to work toward a place where I could feel like I deserved it, and I have him to thank for putting me along my path even if it meant spending less time meeting with him and more time in chemistry labs and philosophy seminars. I began a reading group in psychoanalysis on campus at the end of my second year, for which he served as the faculty advisor, and I had always hoped we would have gotten to have a discussion with him. I can say from the diverse group attracted by these meetings and their mutual acknowledgement of him that Bert was and still is a ubiquitous presence in Hyde Park and beyond; his persona cuts across all professional and intellectual boundaries with a smile and a wink.

    He was one of the most hard-working people I’ve known in my life through the end and was always surprised to hear about all of his commitments given the energy he brought to teaching. I’m most glad for him that he was able to continue teaching for as long as he did because it was always apparent what joy that brought him.

    Bert, thanks for taking me seriously when I couldn’t yet do the same for myself. I’ll make sure to earn your kindness and devotion by spreading it to others, and if I do end up training in analysis–or heck, teaching undergrads (to think with Freud)–I’ll be bringing you with me.

  26. I first met Bert Cohler in Self Culture and Society, early on in the 1970’s as either a freshman or sophomore. It was immediately clear that amid this gentle demeanor was a man of profound caring and intelligence. He came to symbolize that most special attribute of the best of Chicago professors, someone who while rigorous and disciplined, was also thoughtful and cared about you. At the time, like others of that age, one student foot was in the door, the other playing and looking elsewhere.

    The story might have ended there except for coming across Bert some twenty five years later at some College event. We picked up as if we had never stopped being in touch – he remembered well the issues of this one student years before, and had the same emotive character – sincere and thoughtful – evidenced many years earlier. And as noted above, not just for this one student, but for all of us. The mind blanks at the thought of so many people, so many constellations in this man’s life – how did he manage it all? With grace, dignity and a sense of being more than we often think we are. He was after all a great man, and I will miss him, his thoughtfulness, and his special way of being all the more and very sadly.

  27. Bruce Novak says:

    Bert was one of my first teachers in The College in the 70s. Though we had been out of touch for nearly twenty years, when I came back for my PhD in Education in the mid-90s, I eerily recognized on renewing contact with him that his soft-spoken–on the surface rather withdrawn but actually intellectually intense and personally caring–teaching persona had, since I had myself become a teacher, become a central, but unbeknownst part of who I was. I fit a number of his classes into my schedule, did a study of the way he built intellectual and personal community in his Self, Culture, and Society course the year he won his second Quantrell, and interacted with him in many, many other ways, both personal and academic, over the six years I was back on campus.

    What turned out to be our last interaction was an all-too-brief call last summer, when I let him know I’d included him prominently in the Acknowledgements to my recently published book Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom (now a bestseller from Columbia), under the category of those who had shown me what it meant to have “religious devotion to students.”

    Bert’s subterranean influence on me, no doubt, had a major effect on my eventual decision to become a teacher. And, though, of course, he had a number of major academic and psychoanalytic accomplishments to his credit, I’m pretty sure than none of these was as important to him as the diffuse influence he had on people like me, encountered for a short time in the classroom. Like Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, his effect on those around him was “incalculably diffusive,” powerful in ways that possibly even the most distinguished outward accomplishments cannot vie with in the possible “growing good of the world.”

    It is a consolation for all of us in this time to know that all that humane and deeply personal influence he exerted in the classroom, for nearly half a century, remains very much alive now, and will only grow over time, as it did unconsciously in me for two decades, and has now done so consciously for a decade-and-a-half and counting!

  28. Justin W says:

    Bert was my undergraduate mentor. He joined me in villifying the Psychology faculty for giving me a “C” in Mind my first year. He smiled while I discussed my grandiose plans to become a psychoanalyst someday. He sat next to Dr. Bevington and a drove of nerds in the B-J dining hall on my side of the picket line when I demanded via petition that they serve corned beef hash daily. He was the best professor I could have hoped for. He never preached — he cultivated the insinuations of my own mind and he let me develop into who I am, maybe with a bit of redirection every now and again. He was my thesis advisor, a fond lover of Noodles, Etc., and by far the strongest reference in my medical school applications. He was on the other end of the computer for years’ worth of e-mail updates about how psychoanalysis would have to wait while I became a surgeon. He’s an integral part of the man I will always want to be. What an incredible existence! His supernova is evidence of a star that burned brighter than any other I’ve encountered. My heart is heavy, but thanks to him, my mind is on and bright.

  29. Daniel Nolan, Ph.D. (The University of Chicago 2005) says:

    If there was one person in this world I would most want to emulate when I “grow up”, it would be Bert. He was completely open and genuine at all times and would always find time for me, despite teaching four classes every quarter at the University of Chicago, as well as seeing patients and serving on the board of “Horizons” in Chicago. I am not sure how many of you know this but, in his ENTIRE therapeutic career, Bert never made a dime off of seeing patients. He offered his services free of charge to everyone he treated. I have never heard of any healthcare or medical professional who had provided as much pro bono treatment in a lifetime. He taught me so many things and set such a high bar for how a human being should serve his fellow man. I love you Bert. You made the world a better place and I miss you terribly.

  30. Philip Pan, MD says:

    If it wasn’t for Bert, I wouldn’t be a psychiatrist. I had known him though my U of C undergrad years through “Self, Culture and Society,” various classes, and his association with Lower Flint House. At the beginning of my 4th year, there was a meeting for behavioral science majors as to how to apply to grad school. Bert asked us who wanted to go into clinical psychology, and almost all of us indicated that we did. He commended us on our pragmatism (I think he said something like, “Good. You all want to eat in the future.”), but then proceeded to tell us that we would probably be better off pursuing med school and a psychiatry residency.

    Needless to say, being told that you’ve sort of been in the wrong major for the last few years when you’re on the verge of graduation was a bit of a shock, and certainly didn’t sit well with me. So after the meeting was officially over, I would have to say I confronted him and we had a long chat in which Bert argued his case. And it made a lot of sense. It stuck in my head through a couple of years of being a mental health worker, and then I decided to go for it, eventually graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s med school, their general psychiatry residency program, and a forensics fellowship at the Isaac Ray Center. Along this path, I met my wife, many cherished friends, and hopefully helped my patients along the way.

    I don’t know what my life would have been like without having known Bert, but it would have been very drastically different. That conversation was a truly pivotal moment in my life, for which I am eternally thankful to him.

  31. Marvin Zonis says:

    It’s hard to know where to start with Bert. And I don’t intend to end with his death. What a blow. What an extraordinary man. Bert was generous, loyal, committed, strong, encyclopedic, smart, and hard working. Boy, was he hard working. He was a lot else of course–amazing. Unforgettable. Cherishable. Marvin Zonis

  32. Mary Hynes-Berry (joined by Gordon, Geb, Sebastien, Nico and Daniel Berry says:

    It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two weeks since Bert Cohler died—though we saw less of each other in recent years, for nearly 40 years our families so closely intersected—the block between our homes on we on Harper and they on Blackstone was travelled virtually every day for many years. We met through Ancona School—car-pooling and being active parents/board members made Anne and I close friends—as were Jimmy and our #2 Sebastien; the boys played, we had endless cups of coffee and chit-chat; whichever house we were at; Bert and Gordon would drift by and join in for a while; we all went to each other’s parties and shared each other’s joys and hardships. The bonds extended out—Gordon worked at Argonne with Gil Perlow, Anne’s uncle, married to her dear aunt Minna Rae. Like Bert, I had a weakness for the latest electronic toy and a dangerous addiction to books. While the boys moved on into adulthood our friendship stayed as strong. The tragedy of Anne’s death devasted us all—I felt and still feel I had lost a sister and knowing that our grief was shared was important for us all.
    Sebastien stayed friends with Jimmy—but Bert became his mentor/intellectual father as it were as Sebastien went to work at the Orthogenic School for 4 years under his leadership.
    In these later years, we have seen each other only in passing but I know each time we felt again the close connection. In all these years, it has been easier to wake up in the morning knowing that straight through on Blackstone, Bert was still there—and as always, his kindness, his interest and his wonderful capacity of valuing of others—with the greatest devotion for his family was constant. The day after he died, I wrote this poem.
    Bert Cohler

    He was a pillar
    Like those that soar skyward
    Becoming a beacon,
    Beckoning and brightening
    However somber the sky.

    He was a pillar
    Like those that give structure
    To structures, that support
    An institution, a haven, a home
    His spirit/soul/sweet strength of being
    Albeit severed from this world
    Have not been sundered from us.
    His spirit/soul/sweet strength of being
    Remain a pillar—
    Soaring skyward
    Giving structure.

  33. Peter Coe PhD says:

    I came to the University of Chicago’s Committee on Human Development in 1966, just after serving a tour of duty with the Army in Vietnam. Adjustment to a high powered graduate school was difficult for me. Bert’s arrival made it possible. His kindness, support, inspiration and encouragement, both in graduate school and a post doc with him stand out in my memory. He believed deeply in clinical work when HD was moving away from clinical psychology.
    For the past thirty years, in addition to a routine practice of clinical psychology and psychoanalysis, I have treated more than two hundred veterans with PTSD. None of this would have been achieved without Bert. While they saw me, they were the the indirect recipients of his generosity and clinical acumen.
    I hope his family and partner derive some comfort from the outpouring of affection and reflection that his death has evoked. Like a good psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, the enduring effects of a great teacher and human being can last a lifetime.
    Peter Coe, PhD, St. Charles Il

  34. Jerry F. Westermeyer says:

    Bert was my teacher and friend. I first met Bert in 1972 as a graduate student in his class at the University of Chicago. He later served as Chair of my dissertations committee in 1982, and I continued to have contact with him through the years in various contexts. He generously agreed to be a guest speaker for me in my classes at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Great integrity and rigorous scholarship are characteristics of Bert that come immediately to mind. The interdiscplinary nature of his work stands out. My heroes move easily in different realms, and Bert was a hero for me in combining clinical case histories (or life narratives) with quantitative data. He did not ignore the importance of emotions or the individual in his work. I think, in part, that is why his teaching style emphasized dialogue in which he could learn from his students as well as they from him. The extensive clinical training required of psychoanalysts that Bert accomplished is quite rare for a tenured Univeristy Professor. He was a rare scholar that combined clinical sensitivities and academic rigor in his writing, teaching and clinical work. But the characterisitc of Bert’s that stands out most for me was his kindness or empathy for others – be it family, students, colleagues, clients or friends. I think his generous, giving nature was all the more remarkable given some difficult circumstances he overcame in his life. As George Vaillant might say the trick to living well is “not to think less of yourself but to think of yourself less.” Bert was constantly thinking of himself less in promoting and caring for others – his family, his students and his friends. He was a great mentor and friend. I loved Bert and I keenly feel his loss. I think it sometimes ironic with loss that mourning may bring even greater incorporation of others inside us. The kindnesses Bert extended to us may yet live in terms of kindnesses we extend to others in our lives in memory of him. Bert had that kind of effect on those who knew him.

  35. Phillip L. Hammack says:

    I first met Bert while pursuing a practicum at Horizons, the LGBT community center in Chicago (now Center on Halsted) around 2001. He was the volunteer psychotherapy supervisor there. His version of our interview was to go to a nearby pub (the Red Lion I think) in Lincoln Park, near the location of Horizons at the time. Our “interview” turned partially into a psychotherapy session with me, as I was in the midst of a professional identity crisis at the time with regard to clinical psychology, and partially a conversation between like-minded intellectuals disenchanted with the increasingly mechanistic way in which clinicians were being trained. This night was truly a turning point for me in my life. I think I met with the director of my clinical PhD program within the week to let him know I was leaving with my MA. That conversation with Bert completely shifted my professional and personal trajectory, very much for the better. For the first time in my life, I felt like a professor really “got” me —- I think he and I realized that night that we really got each other. It was that sense of intellectual camaraderie that never faded from our relationship over the past 11 years, even right up until his tragic decline earlier this year, when we were writing a paper together for a special issue of a journal. Over the years, Bert served as my teacher and mentor (when I enrolled in the PhD program in Human Development at U of C), even though he always insisted on referring to me as his “colleague” from Day 1. That kind of confidence he had in me helped me to construct a strong professional identity as a scholar. Though we were separated by generations, Bert and I shared many traits that allowed our relationship to flourish. We both were incessant bibliographers and unable to write about something unless we had read virtually ALL there was to read about a subject. This made us great writing partners. We wrote several articles together and edited a book together. I’ll never forget the ease with which we wrote together, exchanging various drafts, always finding a common voice. Bert was like a father to me, all the more the past few years after I lost my father. He inquired throughout that experience about how I was carrying on. Bert’s empathy, generosity and generativity knew no bounds. In the wake of his death, I keep hearing his voice, the way he would answer the phone when I would call, our many lunches, gossip exchanged over beer or coffee. He invited me to be his teaching assistant (or as he called it, “co-instructor”) for several courses. From this experience I learned of his passion for undergraduate teaching and watching young people have new ideas — and inspire HIM to have new ideas. He was a legend on campus and around the world —- he is someone to aspire to be more like. Now that he’s gone, one thing keeps running through my mind, “How can I be more like Bert?” Thank you, Bert, for that gift. You keep on teaching all of us.

    Phil Hammack
    PhD, Committee on Human Development, 2006

  36. Donna Moran Robbins says:

    My memories of Bert date to his pre U.Chicago days, when he was at Mass. Mental and a research colleague. I vividly remember the cartoon he placed prominently on his office wall depicting a pilot tiptoeing down the aisle of a plane wearing a parachute while the passengers watched. Bert hated to fly. He also was the first person to share his antipathy for wool with me. He allowed that the only way he could tolerate wool trousers was to wear pj pants underneath!. Besides being a scholar,he was a very human, very funny man whom I will never forget.

  37. Dean Rodeheaver says:

    I just saw this news today as I was doing some background searching on personal narratives and identity. Of course, I had to look up Bert. I knew him only briefly through my late wife Nancy Datan, who loved him dearly. On behalf of her family, I offer our condolensces to his. I will always have fond memories of visiting him in Hyde Park.

  38. David Rush says:

    It took me a while to finally acknowledge that Bert had passed. To say that he was a mentor is an understatement. To say that he played an important role in my life is an understatement. He was my first Resident Head (in Burton Judson), my first college teacher (Self, Culture, and Society); my advisor, my mentor, my friend. He bought me my first legal beer at Jimmy’s. When I was floundering around after college he suggested that I come back and get a Masters in the MAPSS program.

    I first met Bert in the Fall of 1990. He was the Resident Head of Linn House in Berton-Judson. He looked a little like a friendly Frankenstein with his gold tooth, goofy ears, and bulbous nose. He helped my father drag up my truck to the top floor with a smile.

    Bert was more than a resident head. He was family. He never locked his dorm apartment door and students would come in and out at all hours to use his kitchen, hang out on his couch, and drink coffee. We had a regular “coffee hour” which started around 9 and went on until everyone left. Bert of course would hold court and give his views on everything from his thoughts on Weber, to Alan Bloom’s views, to politics, etc. The debates would last well into the night (and often after Bert had gone to bed).

    I read Adam Smith, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Foucault, Levi-Strause, and of course Fraud with Bert. He made these texts come alive. His lectures could be rambling at times (good lord he went on for hours on some tiny detail) – but his classes were magic.

    I took no less than six classes with Bert. I knew his two sons. I kept in touch well after college and would get together every few years for a drink or dinner. The last time I saw him was a year ago. My (much younger) sister was graduating and Bert was there in his robes. He gave me a big smile and a hug and we chatted for a few minutes with promises to get together soon.

    Bert – I can’t tell you how much I miss you.

  39. Brian Schiff says:

    Call for Contributions
    Bertram Joseph Cohler Memorial Conference
    The Department of Comparative Human Development
    The University of Chicago
    June 13th and 14th 2013

    Bert Cohler was an extraordinary academic with a long and distinguished career, influencing the intellectual debate in the social sciences on the problems of aging and human development, family and the life course, narrative, sexuality, the Shoah, resilience, well being, mental illness and psychoanalysis. Bert was enormously productive, authoring and coauthoring hundreds of papers and several books. Bert’s legacy can be measured not only by his scholarly writings but also by how his ideas have been taken up and used by his students and close colleagues.

    One year after Bert’s death, we believe that this is the right time to take stock of Bert’s impact on the direction of the social sciences through his students and colleagues. With the support of the Department of Comparative Human Development at The University of Chicago (formerly the Committee on Human Development), Bert’s academic home for 40 years, we are planning a conference on June 13th and 14th to be held at The University of Chicago to celebrate Bert’s scholarly legacy. What has been the impact of Bert’s scholarly work? What is the enduring value of his most pivotal ideas? These are great questions in general, which should be the subject of papers and conversations. However, our intention is to make this a living memorial. How has Bert’s teaching, counsel, mentorship, and friendship influenced the direction of our thinking? What are the next steps to promote his legacy?

    We will select about 20-30 papers for presentations. Papers will be assembled in an edited book in Bert’s honor. There will be additional space to attend the conference without giving a paper.

    To present a paper: Please send an extended abstract of 300-400 words in Word format to Stephanie ( Please include your name, institutional affiliation and email address with your abstract. Please also indicate one or more of the following keywords for your abstract, reflecting the general areas of inquiry to which Bert contributed: aging, family, human development, life course, mental health, narrative, psychoanalysis, resilience, sexual identity, Shoah (Holocaust).

    The deadline for contributions is March 1, 2013, and decisions will be emailed by April 15, 2013.

    Brian Schiff, Phil Hammack, Robert Galtzer-Levy and Andrew Hostetler

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