Letters From Leton: Weekend at Bernie’s!

When I worked at the Virginia Bankers Association (VBA), one of our political adversaries was Delegate Bernie Cohen (D) from Alexandria.

Delegate Cohen, who was very liberal for his time, grew up and was educated in New York City with a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington.

Often (well, most of the time), we were on opposite sides of bills and votes.

In the late 1980’s, the financial industry was beginning to take shape as we know it today – being able to do most financial services in one place. Once State Farm started making car loans, we knew that we had to allow Banks to expand their services to compete, which would include selling insurance products.

It was a challenge to find one of our “traditional” bill patrons, as they did not want to take sides in the Banking versus Insurance looming legislative battle (which lasted three general assembly sessions).

So who did we turn to as patron of our Bill? Delegate Bernie Cohen, who growing up in the Northeast had seen the value of Savings Bank Life Insurance for many folks of modest means.

We did make a bit of an odd couple – the Banking Industry and a Liberal Democratic Legislator – but we both saw the value of expanding services, competition and options to consumers. 

The Bill passed, and Delegate Cohen and the VBA returned to their normal friendly adversarial roles.

In 2011 a movie, The Loving Story, was released.  (A TV movie with the same theme had been released in 1996). 

It was a story of a Virginia interracial couple, Richard (white) and Mildred (Black), who had married. Virginia law at the time the movie was set in prohibited interracial marriage, and the case was taken to the Supreme Court. The attorney for the Loving’s in 1967 was none other than a Bernard (Bernie) Cohen. I had no idea of Delegate’s involvement in such an important court case until I read about the movie.

Last week I learned from a press release from the Governor’s office that Delegate Cohen had passed.

Bernie Cohen was a worthy political adversary. He was a person of great conviction and belief in fairness.

I pay homage to him through this communication and express a longing for a time when people disagreed politically but respected one another.

– Leton

“Letters From Leton” is a blog series comprised of the weekly updates that Leton Harding – President, Chairman, and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank, shares with the Bank’s team members. These newsletters are full of uplifting anecdotes and intriguing insights that are applicable beyond the Bank, so we want to share them with you.