The third Vusumzi Primary School classroom is dedicated to Louise Beth Cohen, a beloved director, actor, teacher, mentor, confidante, and friend to students and adults, alike. Raised in Revere, Massachusetts, Louise grew up in a self-described "colorful" family that was ripe with sarcasm and determination. After graduating from Revere High School, whose school song she sang with an infectious Boston accent, Louise attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and then the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
In 1981, she made her way to Purnell School, a girls' boarding school in Pottersville, New Jersey. Throughout her 14-year tenure at Purnell, she touched lives with her humor, compassion, and patience, and made a deep impression on scores of students. Louise's talents surfaced during theatre productions, acting classes, and Immersion Period, during which students mastered all elements of a musical - from blocking to memorizing to singing - in the span of just two short weeks. Louise pulled off this miracle because she embodied the tough love approach to teaching: filled with warmth at the same time she demanded excellence.
Tragically, in 1998, after experiencing a tingling in her pinky finger and, soon thereafter, involuntary arm movements, Louise was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiforme, a relentless form of brain cancer. Her doctors gave her a limited window for survival, but Louise cast that prognosis to the side and face her battle from all fronts. For a long while, Louise stymied the medical community. One said, Much to our surprise, there is nothing going on in there," suggesting that the tumor had shrunk and even receded. Sadly, however, for all who knew her, the cancer returned with a vengeance, and Louise passed away in October of 1999. Finally, after a long, determined battle, Louise moved toward a more peaceful, cancer-free future
Her death never diminished her impact, however. Louise's profound and lasting influence on everyone at Purnell led her colleagues and former students to pay tribute to her by naming a Vusumzi Primary School classroom in her honor. The gesture fittingly pays tribute to Louise globally and in perpetuity. Martha T. Cummings, Universal Promise founder wrote, "After Louise died I remember thinking that the world had gotten less uninhibited, less compassionate, less fun. I know Lou would have been absolutely devoted to the efforts Universal Promise is making in South Africa and that she would have already been there by now, more than once, connecting with the nursery school children in ways that only she could. I can see her prancing around the playground, kids hanging off her every limb, while she sang, made goofy noises, and smiled from pure, unabashed joy. They would have loved you, Lou, as so many, many of your former students clearly did (and do) by virtue of their having named this classroom after you. We miss you."
Purnell colleagues and students also wrote, "Louise was such a huge influence in my life. She helped me so much in a time of need. I miss that smiling face. I have such wonderful memories, and I will always cherish them. Ms. Cohen was one of my all-time favorite teachers. I adored her, and she was a rock for me during my Purnell years. Louise always was and always will be an inspiration. Louise was a dear, sweet legend. Louise was always kind to us and friendly. We think of her often, and she still makes us laugh out loud when we remember her. Louise changed my life. She was an extraordinary woman, teacher, advisor and mentor. Beyond that, she was hysterically funny and would make me laugh at faculty and advisor meetings when we were supposed to be serious.