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Andy Cohen's family says he cared deeply about politics and his daughter

Former Menlo Park councilman found dead Dec. 29

Two things Andy Cohen cared deeply about, says his ex-wife and good friend Susan Montana, were politics and his daughter, Rachel.

Mr. Cohen, 75, a former Menlo Park mayor and two-term council member, was found dead in his Menlo Park home Tuesday, Dec. 29.

The San Mateo County Coroner's Office reported that Mr. Cohen died of natural causes. Susan Montana says the family believes Mr. Cohen died peacefully in his sleep.

Rachel Montana was technically Mr. Cohen's step-daughter, but she says she thought of him as her father. From the age of 4, even after he and her mother split up, Rachel Montana was jointly raised by Mr. Cohen and Susan Montana.

"He was consistently dedicated and responsible and just adored her," Susan Montana says. "We decided long ago that we're a family and owed nobody an explanation" of just exactly how they were all related, she says.

In fact, Susan Montana says, Rachel displays many of Mr. Cohen's personality traits, including a "similar twisted sense of humor."

Rachel Montana remembers cross-country skiing and roller blading with her father when both were younger and, more recently, theater and restaurant outings, walks and watching movies with him. The two had dinner together the night before he died.

Mr. Cohen also loved his mixed-breed dog Sheila, although she was not the world's best-behaved dog, Rachel Montana says. Sheila's and Mr. Cohen's two cats are now with the Montanas, she said.

When services are scheduled they will be announced in the Almanac.

It was not only Mr. Cohen's family or even his political allies who found him to genuinely care about others. Mr. Cohen "was just a big-hearted guy," said Mayor Rich Cline, who served on the City Council with Mr. Cohen for six years. "He cared about everybody," he said.

Mr. Cohen especially cared about the lower-income residents of Menlo Park, Mr. Cline said, and "he did a lot to keep people in their homes in Belle Haven."

Mayor Cline said his former council colleague "was probably the strongest voice for the residential slow-growth community" when he served on the council.

"He always wanted to do right for everybody," Mayor Cline said.

Mr. Cohen served on the Menlo Park City Council from 2004 to 2012, when he chose not to run for re-election. He was a former judge who served on the California Workers' Compensation Appeals Board from 1989 to 1994 and was the presiding judge on the board from 1994 to 2003. He had a law degree from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in economics from Dartmouth College.

Longtime friend Morris Brown said he and his wife, Denise, saw Mr. Cohen just days before his death.

Mr. Cohen "was always fighting for the underdog," Mr. Brown said. He did legal work for nonprofits and had been volunteering at the Veterans Affairs facility in Menlo Park. "That was just his nature," he said.

He said Mr. Cohen was intellectually curious and "liked to keep up on world events, especially history. He loved to do crossword puzzles. He was a crossword fanatic actually," Mr. Brown said.

Menlo Park resident and former planning commissioner Patti Fry said she met Mr. Cohen soon after he jumped into the council election in Menlo Park in 2004 at the last minute. "He was a true advocate for the little guy. He believed in transparency. He was always reaching out to people in the community of every stripe," she said.

Mr. Cohen's votes and stands on issues did not follow any political agenda, Ms. Fry said. "He was his own thinker," she said. "He probably did as much outreach as anybody I've seen," she said.

Mr. Cohen was "a highly educated, brilliant man ... he was just unique," Ms. Fry said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said Mr. Cohen "certainly was a colorful character on the public stage." With issues the two worked together on, Mr. Schapelhouman said, Mr. Cohen "had a way of cutting to the quick, rather than the double-talk you get sometimes from politicians.

"He didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear but I respected the fact that he gave it to you straight, shooting from the hip, so to speak, and he seemed to have a way of talking on behalf of the average person."

Mr. Cohen had his own law offices in Palo Alto and Menlo Park between 1974 and 1989, and taught law at Lincoln Law School in San Jose, San Mateo Law School, and Magna Carta Law School.

He served for a short time as the executive director of the Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, and volunteered for the Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity.

Mr. Cohen was also a painter who in 2009 had a show of 25 years of his landscapes and local scenes at Little House in Menlo Park.

Mr. Cohen also served in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1965.

While on the council Mr. Cohen put together three panels of community leaders on homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder, youth violence and cooperation between schools and municipal governments.

In addition to Susan and Rachel Montana, Mr. Cohen is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, John and Julie Cohen of Cincinnati, Ohio, and two nephews.

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