Friday, February 09, 2007

A Little Inspiration from an Obit

An obituary? Surely, Button's fallen off his rocker this morning, right? Well, maybe not exactly. I didn't know Ms. Natalie Cohen, the 94 year old Atlantan, who was a former local tennis champion and an umpire for 50 years. But I wish I had. She's gone now. But there are still things to be learned from her life.

Okay, so she's not that famous. But read her AJC obit. She died with no immediate family. However, she clearly had a wealth of friends, and made a lasting impression on many people. Not least of which was the fiesty, sexist, egomaniacal, wildly talented showman tennis player, Ilie "Nasty" Nastase.

Nasty, the exotic Romanian, was known to be charming in the best of moods and perfectly willing to embarass anyone in the worst of moods. Nastase's antics were so bad that the calm, serene, and graceful Arthur Ashe once quit during a match and refused to shake Nastase's hand.

Yet, he met his match in one Natalie Cohen. According to the obit, she apparently gave it all right back to Nastase and impressed him so that he returned to the tennis tournament the next day with a bouquet of flowers for her.

Ms. Cohen also made an impression at her alma mater, Cal-Berkely. Here's an excerpt from a Georgia Trend article about Ms. Cohen:

But one of Cohen's greatest feats had nothing to do with tennis. It had to do with firing up her alma mater's football team in its game against arch-rival Stanford. At age 74, she burst into the locker room of her California Golden Bears at halftime and delivered a pep talk that would have rivaled one of Knute Rockne's.

The Bears were so motivated that they raced back on the field, overcame an eight-point deficit and upset the heavily favored Stanford Indians, 17-11.

As a student at Cal, Cohen had changed the way women were treated at home football games. It was 1930 when she went to the opening game at Cal's Memorial Stadium.

"I sat with my friends, a bunch of women in Section RR next to the men's rooting section, where women were not allowed. As soon as the Cal team came on to the field, I stood up and let go with a beautiful 'Rebel yell,'" Cohen remembers.

"Immediately, a male student grabbed my arm, pulled me down in to my seat and said in a voice louder than somewhat, 'Sit down and be quiet!'

"Imagine the nerve of that guy! I asked why should I sit down and he said, 'Women don't yell.' "This guy is telling me I am going to be here for four years and I am not going to be allowed to yell for my football team. I'm thinking, he does not know Natalie Cohen.

"Well, for the rest of that first game, I did not stand up or yell again. But the next Saturday I arrived early at the stadium and brought a bunch of women with me. We sat in Row 30, Section RR, across the aisle from the men's section.

"When the men yelled, we would yell, almost in perfect unison. More and more women began to yell with us and by the next season we had cheerleaders stationed on platforms in front of our section to lead us in cheers."

She may be the only woman to have a seat dedicated in her honor. Seven years ago, in section RR, at the Cal home opener, Seat 1 was named the "Natalie Cohen" seat.

That's just too good of a story not to share.

1 comment:

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Sometimes you do come across such interesting obituaries.....Thanks for sharing. I linked to this post and included it in the Georgia Carnival at