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

Food for thought: Is there court reporter DNA?

I graduated from high school at age 18. I entered reporting school at age 18. I commenced my own reporting career at age 18. I had no predecessor relatives in our chosen profession. I was fortunate to be in the next crop of reporters to follow the legends prior thereto. These luminaries included Bill and Arnold Cohen, Nat Weiss, Nathan Behrin, et al. That same generation of reporting teachers included Jesse Benton, Paul Simone, Manny Grodsky, Nancy Patterson, and many more, all of whom were somewhat accessible to me for guidance and coaching. While Bill Cohen is just about retired from active reporting, he continues to teach and mentor. Chronologically speaking, I entered my first National Speed Contest in 1965 at the then–National Shorthand Reporters Association national convention in Atlantic City, N.J. I was at that time reporting five years at the ripe age of 23. Bill Cohen chaired the Speed Contest Committee.

Approximately 30 years thereafter I stopped competing, and I chaired that same Speed Contest committee. Bill was my right arm. It was all about Bill; what a thrill!

This past year I attended my 48th consecutive NCRA Convention. When I observed Bill in the corridors of this annual event, there were no less than a dozen or more neophyte and seasoned reporters surrounding him. I made my routine beeline for Bill, almost rudely leaping over everyone else, merely to continue showing my enormous respect for this unique professional. Bill is the consummate reporter, possessing no noticeable ego, only inimitable talent.

So if you’re getting the feeling this article is all about Bill Cohen — wrong; it is not. Bill took the time to introduce me to two of his current students at that time in August 2013 in Philadelphia. It should be noted that a great teacher, operating in an eleemosynary environment, can afford to pick and choose his students, almost analogous to a great trial attorney picking to try only cases he or she cannot lose. One such student is the reason for my writing: Noah Collin. While I have now maintained closeness to Noah for the past six months, it was only recently that I acquired the knowledge that Noah is Bill Cohen’s great nephew. So why do I highlight Noah at the possible risk of insulting the hundreds of other young reporters whom I have coached to success? Because I am extremely curious to see if DNA truly has an application to reporting greatness. Noah already and obviously has the practicing habits of Bill: practice ‘til you drop; the longer you write, the longer you write; and pay close attention to other successful reporters from whom you may learn. “Achieve, succeed, persevere, never panic, do not ever be intimidated.” So easy to say; so difficult to maintain. Almost immediately after meeting Noah and prior to learning that he and Bill were related, I began to evaluate where Noah “was” and where I thought he should be. Then I wanted to figure out the plan to take Noah where I believe he needs to be in order to enter this wonderful world of reporting. This plan all began to take root while Bill continued his daily mentoring of Noah.

My fear was that Noah should not become confused. To my pleasant surprise, Noah was both a quick learn to adapt to my speedbuilding techniques and Bill’s methodical persistence. After explaining the many choices from which to choose, Noah agreed to at least see if he felt comfortable commencing his career in the CART arena. Being one of the first CART reporters, it warmed my heart to see a young (27-year old) reporter follow in my footsteps and my daughter Lauren Schechter’s footsteps, and enter CART reporting, by far not the simplest of realtime endeavors.

After only a few months, I only half-gambled and exposed Noah to his first college course to CART, ‘’Teaching Deaf/ HoH Students To Teach Hearing Students.” Of course, Noah sat in with many different CART reporters before I permitted him to fly solo. I was delighted to know that Noah felt nervous. My dear friend and speed champion Chuck Boyer always said, “If you’re nervous, stay nervous; don’t fight it. It will win.” Noah feeling nervous was a good sign. He knew this was an important day. Frankly, I didn’t know who was more nervous: Noah or me. I also realized that if your first “outing” is a poor one, your self-esteem is shot; you feel you failed your self-esteem, and I failed my student. Not good!

Noah’s style of self-critique, I have learned, is to be tough on himself, while always protecting the valuable service a CART reporter is rendering a deaf student or deaf professor. To my pleasure, Noah’s self-analysis was: “I felt nervous, but the student thanked me.” I then checked, ORTING somewhat surreptitiously, with the student, as well as the Dean of Student Life at this famous New York university. How great! Noah did well and was requested to return.

Only six months later, Noah is carrying a full load of college courses at more than one school of higher education. I have never been requested to hold him back. As you know, perception has so much to do with pleasing another individual. Some of the best writers have been told not to return. In the CART world, we are dealing with the deaf and disability cultures. It’s not always a walk in the park. Noah has what it takes to be a first-rate CART provider, I am so proud to say.

To be a great realtime reporter, one must possess many components successfully, i.e., speed, accuracy, realtime skills, consistency, fingerspelling, and — not to be forgotten — attitude. Noah is on his way, and we have Bill Cohen to thank. Whether through DNA, avuncular respect, or a need to follow in his family of reporting greats, I am adjectivally challenged to describe or express why I feel Noah will ultimately be a legend, just like his Uncle Bill and other family members.

Noah will be a man of letters. Possessing a bachelor degree in Business Administration from Guilford College in North Carolina or becoming an RPR or CSR will never suffice. I predict he will someday be sitting in the speed contest room as a writer, not an observer.

To more fully prepare himself for his reporting career, Noah taught English and economics in South Korea. And, just like Uncle Bill, he was awestruck at the beauty of language and he often challenges me, politely, on English usage. “Bill, like white on rice, you’re all over Noah. You both respect and practice the mandate of discipline.” Perhaps if I had adopted said mandate, I would have won a national speed contest instead of just placing. And if there is a god of reporting, perhaps he already knows that Noah shall follow in Uncle Bill’s professional footsteps. Whether via DNA or Bill’s discipline, maybe one and the same, there is a winner screaming to surface in my young protege, my friend, my CART reporter, Noah Collin.