Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Tribute To Ruby Cohen

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd

legislator photo

Mr. President, I rise today to pay special tribute to a unique and wonderful person who graced the State of Connecticut and who recently passed away at the age of 87, Mr. Rubin H. ``Ruby'' Cohen.

Ruby hailed from Colchester, Connecticut. He accomplished a great many things during his exceptional life. The son of Jewish immigrants, Ruby made his mark at an early age. At 15 years old, after quitting school, Ruby went to work at a local hot dog stand called Harry's Place in Colchester. Then at the age of 18, with $300 borrowed from relatives, Ruby Cohen purchased Harry's Place, which eventually became a popular stopping point for travelers making their way between Connecticut and the Rhode Island beaches in the summer.

Soon, Governors, State Legislators, and politicians were stopping in for a bite to eat. It is at Harry's Place that my father, Thomas Dodd, came to meet and befriend Ruby Cohen. My father deeply valued this very special man who was always honest with his opinions and supportive throughout their many years of friendship.

However, politicians did not go to Harry's Place simply to enjoy a hot dog, but to rub elbows with one of Connecticut's most influential lawmakers. Unassuming in his presence, Ruby Cohen was, in fact, considered a powerful political insider. He began his political career in 1942 when he was first elected to the state House of Representatives. His popularity with the voters of Colchester earned him 14 more terms in office during which he became the first Democrat in 85 years to become the House Chairman of the Appropriations committee, a position he held for 12 years.

It was during his tenure as Chairman that Ruby Cohen distinguished himself as a legislator and also aided a cultural renaissance in my hometown of East Haddam. Back in 1959, The Goodspeed Opera House, which sits quietly on the Connecticut River just a short distance from my home, was a dilapidated state-operated garage in dire need of repairs. When Ruby Cohen was approached by one of his colleagues in the House who expressed a desire to renovate the structure, Ruby seized an opportunity to enhance a community. He drafted a bill appropriating $10,000 for the repair of the building's roof, successfully beginning the creation of the Opera House. Today, the Goodspeed Opera House is a nationally renowned theater with a reputation for excellence in the arts. We have Ruby Cohen to thank for recognizing the value and importance of the arts within a community and for providing this quiet Connecticut town with an artistic outlet.

Ruby will also be remembered for his commitment to preserving Connecticut's open spaces well before it became an issue of national importance. He played an integral role in the establishment of one of Connecticut's better-known refuges, Gay City State Park in Hebron. He spearheaded the restoration of the Comstock Bridge in East Hampton. Also on his list of accomplishments is the preservation of the Gelston House, a historic hotel which stands next to the Goodspeed Opera House.

Mr. President, Ruby Cohen was an honest man from meager beginnings who went on to establish a reputation in Connecticut as a respected lawmaker and friend. His death is a difficult loss for those who relied on his political wisdom and personal support. Even with his passing, we all may be comforted in the thought that his spirit and memory may be found in so many ways throughout a state he held so dear. He is survived by his two sons, David and Max, three daughters, Susan, Margaret, and Mary Ann, nine grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. I offer my heartfelt condolences to each of them.