Three Generations of Friezers Fans of Cohen

Left, Henk Friezer, a well-known photographer, first worked with Dorothy Mahoney Cohen when she was a public information assistant for the South Pasadena Unified School District many decades ago. His father also worked with her. Right, Sean Friezer knew her through his work with South Pasadena Dial-A-Ride. Photo by Sally Kilby

Sean Friezer represents the third generation in his family to have known and admired Dorothy Mahoney Cohen.

She passed away in January, and her life was celebrated March 17 at an event held in the Library Community Room.

He and his father, photographer Henk Friezer, are fans of the former mayor. Both attended the remembrance service.

“My grandfather Joe Friezer,” said Sean Friezer, “knew her when he was a photographer for the Northeast Newspapers [chain] in Highland Park,” he told this reporter after Cohen’s memorial.

The elder Joe Friezer, who passed away in 1998, was an internationally known photographer, said his son Henk.

Originally from The Netherlands, Joe Friezer had once been the favorite photographer the country’s then-reigning Queen Juliana, he said. He had traveled with her extensively before immigrating to the U.S. with his family in 1955.

Joe and Henk Friezer’s Los Angeles photography company was well known. Occidental College in the city’s northeast section has archived more than 100,000 negatives from more than 60 years of the business, according to the school’s website.

South Pasadena residents are aware of Henk because he has worked in the area as a photographer for many years. 

Sean Friezer had heard of her through his father Henk Friezer. He was shocked that she knew his grandfather, photographer Joe Friezer. Photo by Henk Friezer

Henk represents the second generation of the Friezers to work with Cohen. They met when she asked him to take photographs for the South Pasadena Unified School District. He said he believes this was in the 1970s. She was employed there as a public information assistant, according to a recent published obituary. His father Joe, Henk said, probably also worked with her in her role with the schools.

He said he soon learned that Cohen was an individual to be taken seriously. “Usually, the photographer is the one to set up for a camera shot,” he told those attending her service.  “They leave this to me.” 

Dorothy, however, had her own ideas of what she wanted. “She made these suggestions, which were really more like orders,” he said. “We worked it out so it was agreeable to both of us.”

He also learned that she did not assume a lesser role as a wife. When he first met her, he told the audience, he inquired about her now-deceased husband, Jerry Cohen, at the time a well-known writer for the Los Angeles Times.

“I asked her, ‘Are you the wife of Jerry Cohen, the famous Times’ writer?’”

“No,” she said adamantly. “He’s my husband.”

Although he and Cohen haven’t worked together for years, Henk said his admiration for her remained.

“She continued to think of others,” he said. “I’ve collected food for the homeless for years, and she would call me up periodically and say, ‘Henk, I’ve got these canned goods for you.’” 

Sean Friezer represents the third generation of his family to have worked with Cohen.

“When I began driving for South Pasadena Dial-A-Ride four years ago, I met Dorothy,” he said. “I was shocked to find out that she had known my grandfather. There are almost no people I meet who knew him.”

Cohen, in her late 80s at the time, was using Dial-A-Ride, the city’s transportation service, for appointments and shopping. This was due to her family’s concerns about her ability to drive. Sean was a regular driver and got to know her.

“Dorothy was very much like my grandfather,” Friezer said, “very defiant and persistent. He knew what he wanted. I’m surprised that they did not butt heads.”

His father Henk agreed that Cohen and his own father were quite similar.

“You knew when Joe Friezer didn’t like someone,” he said.

Sean Friezer said he became acquainted with Cohen’s brutally honest approach to life while driving her to and from various destinations.

Once, he recalled, Cohen and another woman were passengers in the van. At that time, Cohen was almost completely deaf. The other woman, unaware of this, began to talk to her.

Cohen stopped her right away. “I know you are trying to have a conversation with me,” Cohen said, “but I am hard of hearing, and I think I’m going to end this conversation right now.”

However blunt Cohen might have been, he said that Cohen was very nice to him.

He said he saw Cohen every week in the last years of her life. Unfortunately, he said, “I didn’t really get to say goodbye to her.” 

Sean was saddened to learn of her passing, his father said.

However, he was grateful to be able to attend her service on St. Patrick’s Day. He was happy to hear stories about Cohen from her family and friends.

Sean said their comments were “dead on,” mirroring his own experiences. “She was tough but a really good person,” he said.