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Beatrice Cohen Koch ’56

Born two months premature to Joseph Cohen, a philosophy professor at the University of Colorado, and Beatrice Burrus Cohen, the assistant dean of women at the same university, Beatrice was Boulder’s first incubator baby.

“Little Bea” and her sister, Josephine, grew up in the shadow of the university and in the company of many students who boarded in their large house on the corner of 11th and Euclid. She received a four-year, full scholarship to Reed, where she majored in philosophy, writing her thesis, The Continuity of Means-Ends in John Dewey’s Reconstruction of Philosophy with advisor Prof. Walter Weir [philosophy 1952–56]. At Reed, she discovered a love of biking, and after returning to Boulder, she claimed to have the town’s first 10-speed bicycle. She was also one of the few women on the Reed men’s racing team. Unfortunately, in college she started smoking—a habit that would lead, later in life, to an oxygen tube.

At Reed she met Christopher Koch ’58 and fell in love. Sharing a passion for the outdoors and hiking, they married and had two daughters, Rachel and Galen. After eight years, the marriage ended in divorce, and Bea continued to raise her girls in in New York City, working as a legal secretary.

A friend noted, “She was always dedicated to the well-being of others.” Perhaps this, and her determination for justice, began during the McCarthy era, when her father was accused of being a communist. Bea took an active role in the women’s and the equal rights movements. She worked for the American Civil Liberties Union and for the Legal Action Center in New York. In New York, she became very involved with the Art Students League and took many classes to develop her talents in drawing.

She became intrigued with ancient Mayan culture in the 1990s and plunged into it with characteristic enthusiasm—reading incessantly, attending conferences, and traveling to Guatemala and Mexico with professional linguists who were seeking to understand the mysteries of Mayan hieroglyphic writing and iconography. Some of her closest friendships took root in this passionate group of “Mayanistas,” where her compassionate nature, intellect, and artistic talents found expression. Bea’s beautiful hieroglyphic drawings illustrated one internationally published paper on the site of the Dos Caobas Stelae. She was a founding member and continuing supporter of Mayas for Ancient Mayan, which helps indigenous Maya people rediscover their ancient heritage. In large groups, her unabashed, ringing laughter was a beacon because “one could assume that all one’s friends were in the general area of that laugh.”

In 2004, she moved back to Boulder to be closer to her two daughters and to the mountains she loved. By this time, she had already been diagnosed with emphysema. Her sister, Josephine Cohen, survives her, as do her two daughters, Rachel and Galen.

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