BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
Longtime Queens Tribune photographer Ira Cohen died unexpectedly last week in his home in Kew Gardens Hills.
Born in the Bronx on April 17, 1947, Ira was a veteran of the Vietnam War, a Staff Sergeant (retired) in the U.S. Army. He worked as a conductor for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and served as police auxiliary for the NYPD.
Of all the various jobs Ira had throughout his life, he was undoubtedly best known as the photographer for the Queens Tribune. If something was happening in Queens, Ira would be there, camera in hand to capture the moment on film.
He was one of the most beloved characters in Queens, who was always willing to go out of his way to help in any situation. Ira was a friend to anyone and everyone who met him.
Ira is survived by two daughters, Rachel and Denise, and a brother, Barry.
As a well-known and well-loved figure in Queens, a number of people have sent in comments expressing their sadness about Ira’s death. Here is just a small selection of those comments from those who knew him and worked with him over the last 15 years:
Ira was well known around Queens for the quality of his photographic work and for his fun and engaging manner. He brought a unique perspective to news events that allowed him to craft the many compelling photographs of his that graced the front page of the Tribune. He was also just an all-around nice guy. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him personally and by all of the Tribune readers who enjoyed his fantastic photography week after week.
– Queens Borough President Melinda Katz
There was so much more to Ira than just taking pictures. He was a great human being with a huge heart. He was a down to earth, colorful and super friendly guy who wouldn’t hesitate to give you the shirt off his back. He was also a veteran who bravely served our country. His passing will no doubt create a void in Queens photojournalism. But he leaves behind an outstanding legacy of work.
– U.S. Rep. Grace Meng
Through his work, Ira chronicled life in Queens and throughout the City of New York for many years and he will be sorely missed. As someone who personally had the pleasure of working with him throughout my career, I express my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and all those who mourn his loss.
– U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley
Ira was a gentleman who never seemed to take himself or anything else too seriously. He always brought a smile to my face whenever I saw him and he never seemed to miss an event. A true loss for all the people of Queens, and especially all who knew and respected him.
– Barry Grodenchik
I met Ira on the campaign trail and he was always quick to acknowledge me. He was one of the nicest people I met during my journey.
– Tony Arcabascio
If I gave him the who, what and where or I dreamed up an illustrative image and described it to him, Ira Cohen was off on a quest and he would bring me back dozens of photos to choose from. And if I rifled through them all and still didn’t see the right shot, it would only take the assurance that it was for the front page and he would be gone, back on the road, and then back in the newsroom just when I needed him. He was driven by the excitement of the front page as much as I was. We shared a news junkie gene. His love of capturing a moment and chronicling his world through his photos was relentless, and fun, and it made him a photojournalist I was proud to work with. But his hug whenever we would cross paths since those days made him my respected friend and I will miss him.
Tamara Hartman, Queens Tribune Editor, 1999-2003
Ira will always be this odd enigma to those who knew him best. It’s really hard to wrap your head around who he was – it never really made sense. You didn’t know how a person could be all that he was and get away with it, to bounce from one day to the next without a care for what others thought of him. Yet he was loved by so many, known by name and face by every elected official in Queens and throughout the city, by every arts group, by every peer, by every one of us who had the good fortune to know him. It is frustrating now to know that he is gone, that the last time I saw him in December would be the last. I’ve reached out to dozens of former co-workers and they all express the same loss that I feel. Ira was indescribable; a good man, a veteran, a friend. It’s difficult to picture a Queens press event without him there. A big piece of the paper’s heart is missing, and that is something that will be hard, if not impossible, to replace.
– Brian M. Rafferty, Queens Tribune Editor, 2003-2011
I met Ira in 2002 when I was a reporter at the Queens Tribune; he was then, and until his passing this week, not just the paper’s photographer but a ubiquitous presence at news events all over Queens and in other parts of the city. His battered red pickup (with the cab cap) was everywhere. His run-and-gun approach to photography was the product of at least two factors I can think of: he took shrapnel in Vietnam and the concept of not lingering long after a shot probably always stayed with him; and being tasked with covering every news event from Astoria to Auburndale, he didn’t have a lot of time to linger either. He had a heart of gold and I don’t know how anyone who’d met him just once could not feel sore and miss him right now. RIP Ira.
– Shams Tarek, former reporter
Ira Cohen was one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Whether it was running around Queens to get photos for all our stories or bringing in a cake for someone’s birthday, he was extremely generous and thoughtful in his actions. Ira was a fantastic photographer and a fantastic person and he will be sorely missed.
– Joe Marvilli, reporter
My time at the Trib was always punctuated by “Wei! Wei!” echoing throughout the office. He’d bring a cake for your birthday… His unique brand of generosity was boundless. His values so far from the norm he must have been from another planet. I’ll always treasure the grimy, soiled MTA uniform he gave me as a gift. It was a blessing to know such a man. And I guess someone like Ira Cohen can’t be around forever. But a young journalist should treasure anyone who breaks open the doors to our field’s mentality.
RIP Ira. Shing jing bing my friend.
– Joe Orovic, former reporter
I keep waiting for the familiar “Wei!” to echo through the office each morning as he makes his entrance, but I know that’s not going to happen. He was one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met and worked with. He touched so many lives, including my own, and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Ira.
– Luis Gronda, reporter
I knew I could always count on him to help me bring visuals to my stories. He always made sure to find me at crowded events and recount everything he took pictures of. Listening to stories about the colorful life he’s lived and the time he served our country will be the moments I will always cherish. I know his presence and exuberance will truly be missed.
– Trisha Sakhuja, reporter
The Tribune has lost a true friend. I have known Ira for almost 20 years. I will miss our almost daily conversations at my desk and hearing about all the functions he attended. Ira, you are truly missed.
– Barbara Townsend, artist
Ira was at all the events, he knew everyone and everyone knew him. It was always a pleasure to see Ira, who treated us all with respect. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Ira!
– Warren Schreiber
God Bless Ira and his family. Queens won’t be the same.
– Anthony Weiner
This breaks my heart to hear the news. He was always good to me, shared many photo shoots and occasions, a great friend. There wasn’t a day that I always thought of him. May he rest in peace. He will be missed much greatly.
– Tania Betancourt, former artist
I have known Ira for many years; he was a familiar face at many press conferences and media events. He always took the time to ask how you were or to talk about his recent events. It won’t be the same with him gone. I looked forward to running into him at pressers. He was a tenacious photographer who seemed to always get his shot.
– Ara Chekmayan
Very sad to hear this. He was a professional and a gentleman.
– Steve Behar
The man was everywhere, always…and he was a fascinating guy. Queens has lost an institution.
– Jonathan Silverman
I worked with Ira during many US Opens over the past 30 years. He was a kind patient person. I am very sad to hear of his passing and send prayers and gentle thoughts his way.
– Frances Crane