Lionel George Cohen, had rich and long life. It was as rich as it was long, and he passed away having reached his century …….. which is a fitting paradigm for someone who was such a passionate cricketer in his early years.
Recently, just 3 years ago, his old school, SACS, bestowed upon him an award, the Spectemur Agendo Award which is only awarded once each year to someone of the exceptional achievements. There have been many recipients who rank among the leaders of South Africa in medicine, law, sport, business, and philanthropy. Lionel was held in the same high esteem. In the citation, one of the points made was how many people he had touched in his life, who were guided by his hand or his words. He had an enormous influence on so many, reached so many heights in his academic, sporting and professional careers, and yet was so modest about these achievements.
Lionel George Cohen was born in Salisbury, the youngest of three children, to Louis Moco and Ethel Cohen 1st June 1914.
After attending Muizenberg Primary School, Lionel completed his high school education at SACS, following in the footsteps of his father to be followed by his sons, Derek (’68) and Andrew (’72).
At SACS, Lionel was awarded blues in 5 different sports. Other sporting achievements included representing Western Province in cricket and rugby at a provincial level, and being a trialist for the Springbok cricket team. He came really close to an international career in cricket. He was one of the founding members of False Bay Rugby Club. This was another of the many Muizenberg connections.
Yet another was his founding the Second Muizenberg Scout Troop. Lionel was affectionately known as “Panther” in the scouting world. When he and mum lived in Sea Point, he went on to establish the 10th Green and Sea Point Scout Troop. From the age of 13 years through to 83 he was actively involved in scouting and when he received the 70 year bar for Long Service Award, he was still an active member of the Scouting Movement.
From scoutmaster to Commissioner of Scouts, it is an understatement to say that Lionel had an enormous influence on so many as mentor, teacher, and friend.
Lionel studied architecture at UCT, and graduated cum laude in 1939 winning the class medal, the Bolus and the Salomon Scholarships. For those unfamiliar with the Salomon Scholarship, this is the equivalent of the Rhodes Scholarship, only open to those born in Rhodesia, and awarded for all-round excellence in sport and academia, offering post-graduate studies at Oxford University.
This, however, coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War, and Lionel chose to enlist, joining the Engineering Corp in North Africa. He experienced the war years as extremely traumatic, and could never be made to speak about them. There were no war stories, no glory, just the sadness of lost friends.
After peace returned, Lionel joined a young Symie Chapman firm in Cape Town, and so began his career in architecture, eventually becoming the prestigious firm of Chapman, Cohen and Versino. In his own right Lionel continued his drive for excellence. He had a good many award winning designs, and many notable buildings remain in Cape Town as testament to his contribution to society. Within the Jewish community he designed the original Highlands House, the Weizman Centre, and the Temple at Wynberg. There are schools, such as SACS and Camps Bay High, which are also his legacy.
Notwithstanding his achievements, Lionel’s greatest passion and lifetime focus was his family. He taught them to be humble, to love unconditionally and to pass on these good values to their families.
Lionel always maintained that his greatest achievement was convincing Joan to marry him. After 67 years of marriage, he was even more deeply in love with her and told her so every day. She was his rock, his centre and his greatest pride. He maintained that to have a happy life, only three things were necessary – a good wife, good children and good health. And in his lifetime, he had all three!
Les Benson, one of Lionel’s scouts has presented Joan with two stones, one of which sits on top of the other. What they represent is the marker that a scout would place down at the end of a long trek through the bush or along a river bed. They are to denote that it is the end of the trail, and the scout has gone home. Rest in Peace , Lionel.