In the presence of greatness

Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRRIn the century-long history of NCRA, special men and women have become stars in our field by virtue of their incomparable excellence and performance at the highest levels, over a period of decades. No name is more renowned in our pantheon of greats than Bill Cohen who celebrated his 90th birthday last fall in New York City. I was privileged to be a guest at the luncheon honoring this icon of court reporting. And what a gathering it was!

Bill’s friends came out to honor him, and they did so movingly, as Bill sat modestly at the head of the long table and each guest rose to say what Bill had meant to them. Many of you know Bill as a great Speed Contest Champion, a winner of three successive national contests in the 1950s. He then retired from competition but has remained for the last half century a commanding presence in the lives of his peers and the students and young reporters he has mentored and taught, including three young reporters he mentors today. Those three were in attendance to bear witness to the lasting influence this man, so generous with his time and talents, has had in their lives.

Bill Cohen_JCRJune14I heard the heartfelt accolades as each guest recounted his special connection to Bill Cohen. It was humbling — and exhilarating. Here were some of the best-known names in court reporting acknowledging their debt to Bill as, fi rst and foremost, a revered role model in their lives. My husband, Ed, stood to thank Bill for inculcating in him a passion for excellence: “I learned from Bill that excellence is always and ever the goal — nothing less.” It’s a priceless insight. Be the best you can be! Always!

I was reminded of Aristotle’s words: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

Bill’s career, extraordinary for its length and its accomplishment, is a testament to his enduring ideals. He has graced us all with an unassuming professionalism in his daily work that raises the craft of court reporting to an art. If you want to know how to do it right, watch Bill Cohen and learn.

It’s remarkable to consider how many students, fellow reporters, colleagues, and peers have benefited from the stellar example Bill has set for seven decades. “Awesome” we would say today!

I could not help but wonder, whether the conviction that animates Bill’s ideals lives on in our profession. Granted, times have changed. Life is bruisingly fast-paced. There’s no time. We’re all in a hurry. Bill Cohen has always made time for others. That’s why he is a role model nonpareil. And that is his life’s lesson for all of us: Take the time to share your talents with others.

Being in the company of such a man renews the spirit. I left the luncheon inspired to be the best I can be, every day. To make the quest for excellence part of my daily routine. To make it a habit. I wish you could have been there.

 

Nancy C. Varallo, RDR, CRR, is NCRA’s president. She can be reached at president@ncra.org.