Remembering Dr. Morris Cohen, Aspen’s first cardiologist |

Remembering Dr. Morris Cohen, Aspen’s first cardiologist

Dr. Morris Cohen, Aspen's first cardiologist, lifted heart care dramatically in his time here.
Courtesy photo

Over three decades ago, Dr. Morris Cohen brought heart to the medical community in Aspen when he became the first cardiologist in Pitkin County. On Jan. 23, he passed away from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He was 82 years old.

Dr. Cohen was an exemplary medical professional, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and as a captain in the U.S Air Force during the Vietnam war, friends and family said.

“His incredible, brilliant mind was immediately evident to everyone who met him, especially if he was talking about medicine,” said Rita Cohen, his wife. “Once one got to know him, though, they would discover that in spite of his brilliance, his sense of humor could be delightfully silly at times, bringing great enjoyment to his family and friends who had the pleasure of sharing this aspect of him.”

In 1992, Dr. Cohen moved with his family from Coral Springs, Florida, to Snowmass Village, desiring to join a mountain community that he could one day retire in.

“We first skied in Snowmass in 1981,” said Rita. “After that trip, we never skied anywhere else.”

But long before retirement, Dr. Cohen contributed to the medical community in Aspen in multifaceted ways.

In addition to being the first cardiologist in Aspen, he went on to serve on the Aspen Valley Hospital Board of Trustees for eight years and started the Cardiac Rehab Center at Aspen Valley Hospital. In addition, he served as the director for nuclear medicine and echocardiography.

His impact on medicine in Aspen didn’t stop there. He also was also a doctor for the Pitkin County jail for seven years and served as the medical advisor for the Pitkin County Board of Health.

“Dr. Cohen served Aspen Valley Hospital and the community for over two decades as a physician, board member, medical staff leader, and a dedicated patient advocate,” said Dave Ressler, CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital. “His contributions were broad, including starting our cardiac rehabilitation program, developing our cardiology program, and advising public health.

“His personal and professional relationships ran just as deep with his patients, his colleagues, our staff, and our community,” he said.

Early years

Dr. Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. He graduated from New York Medical College in 1966, where he earned the Eben J. Carey Memorial Award in Anatomy and was inducted into the Phi Chi Medical Fraternity.

After medical school, he began a medical internship at Jersey Shore Medical Center. While in his internship, he received a draft notice and entered the Air Force in 1967 with the rank of first lieutenant.

He was stationed Hill Air Force Base in Utah, where he received orders to begin one year of duty in Vietnam while the war was underway. He was promoted from first lieutenant to captain and began working at the Cam Rain Bay Military Hospital in Vietnam.

According to Rita, Dr. Cohen had a special interest in tropical diseases. He had a great desire to offer medical care to the Vietnamese people who lived in remote villages in the jungles of the country, which resulted in him flying numerous times to isolated villages to offer his services.

Dr. Cohen completed his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969 and was transferred to the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. He remained in the reserves until he was honorably discharged in 1975.

He then began a medical residency at the University of Miami Jackson Memorial, which he completed in 1971. He followed up his medical residency with a fellowship in cardiology at the same institution. During his fellowship, he met Rita, who was a registered nurse in the coronary care unit.

“It was on my first day on the job after graduating from college that I first saw Morris,” said Rita. “I was attracted to him immediately — not only because of his obvious intelligence and looks, but also because of the sense of compassion and kindness that he showed to the patients.

“The attraction was mutual, and after working together at the hospital, we began dating just a few months later, marrying on May 19, 1973 — the beginning of a marriage filled with undying love for one another.”

They moved to Coral Springs Florida from Miami after they married. For the next 20 years, Dr. Cohen practiced internal medicine and cardiology in the area.

Rita said her husband balanced his career with being an extraordinary father of two children.

“He never missed a piano or dance recital, a birthday party, family holiday dinner, or any other important event,” she said. “Many times, we attended an event in separate cars because of Morris’ call schedule, and he would often have to leave right afterwards, but he still managed to attend every single time.”

Retired life in the high country

Dr. Morris Cohen and his wife, Rita, motorcycling through Independence Pass.
Courtesy photo

After 40 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Morris retired in Snowmass Village in 2013.

“After Morris retired, we enjoyed all of the activities that attracted us to this area to begin with: skiing, biking, motorcycling, hiking,” said Rita.

In his retirement, he also took on watercolor painting. He spent many days tending to his garden and spending time with his family.

“The most important thing for both of us was now being able to be together constantly,” said Rita.

In recent years, Morris’ health began to decline after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Rita believes that his voluntary excursions into the jungles of Vietnam to bring health care to the native villagers exposed him to Agent Orange — a defoliant used by the U.S. military to allow for better aerial visibility — which led to his illness.

He passed away four months before their 50th anniversary. He was buried with military honors from the Air Force.

Dr. Morris Cohen is survived by his wife, Rita, his two children Ricki and Joshua, and his grandchildren.