Remembering Eva Cohen: artist, designer, mother, swimmer, prankster

Eva Denise Cohen, of Berkeley, died unexpectedly in the early morning of Dec. 31, from complications of pneumonia and sepsis. She was 54 years old.

Her family and many friends agree that Eva was a singular soul: kind, generous, authentic. She was a beautiful woman with a wacky sense of humor and an appreciation of the absurd that endeared her to everyone.

As the shocking news of Eva’s death spread over social media and via old-fashioned phone calls in the following days, it was clear that every one of her hundreds of friends truly felt that they were special to Eva. She touched many lives and managed to make every person feel not only seen but appreciated. She frequently bestowed touching gifts on people, sharing many treasured possessions without hesitation. Many of her friends shared stories about her selflessness and generosity, about her sense of humor, about her love for her son and family. Eva was central to the tribe of people who knew and loved her. She leaves a distinct and painful void.

Born in Michigan in 1965, the family moved to Palo Alto when her father, Dr. Albert Cohen, joined Stanford University’s music department faculty in 1973. She grew up in the so-called “Stanford faculty ghetto,” and attended Stanford’s Lucile M. Nixon Elementary School, Terman Middle School, Wilbur Junior High School and Henry M. Gunn High School.

Her father specialized in French Baroque music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the family traveled and lived in France during Eva’s adolescence. Eva also spent a college semester there. Throughout her entire life, Eva kept a distinctly French sensibility when it came to style, decor… and pastry.

After high school, Eva studied fine and applied art at the University of Oregon. She would later go on to study design at Parsons School of Design in New York City and earned an MFA in Visual Communication from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She then returned to the Bay Area, living in Oakland and Berkeley and working as a graphic designer. In 2003, Eva joined the faculty at Diablo Valley College to teach design and typography. Many cohorts of students thrived under her tutelage and good humor and benefitted from her referrals for illustration and design work.

She met her husband, Steve Holtzman, in 2002. Their son Theo was born in 2006. Eva was close with her stepchildren, attending stepdaughter Marika’s wedding in 2019 and serving as a close confidant to both Marika and stepson Alex. Throughout her life, Eva had a seemingly magical ability to connect with children.

If Eva wasn’t teaching, raising Theo, volunteering her time for countless school and other activities, or drinking coffee, she preferred to be outdoors. She hiked, biked and swam. She was a relentless mover—a yogi as well as a triathlete. She most recently was a member of the Claremont Streamliners. She set aside her discomfort to swim in San Francisco Bay with her husband and son, sometimes with a group of like-minded others. She was particularly known for bringing the post-workout sweets.

Facebook and texting made it easy for Eva to keep in touch with friends around the world. And no one, no matter how far-flung, was immune from the occasional gag gift, a parody business card that she designed, a doctored photo, or an inappropriate postcard. It was an inclination that distinguished her friendship. She was never above a silly hat, gag eyeglasses, or a stick-on mustache. But more important: she was always there when friends needed her, often going the extra mile for a sick friend or family member, organizing and following up on their care. She sometimes seemed ubiquitous, leaving treats or gifts on friends’ doorsteps while they were out. She made everyone laugh, but never at the expense of others.

Hers was a close-knit family. She was her husband’s best friend, and she was particularly tight with her younger brother, Stefan Cohen; her son, Theo; and her nephew Adin. Stefan said that Eva was his “pillar” throughout his life. Evenings and weekends at Eva’s Berkeley home regularly included laughter and lots of good food.

In a sad concurrence, her father, Dr. Albert Cohen, 90, died the same hour as Eva early Dec. 31. The two were very attached, and Eva had spent countless hours caring for her dad as he grew frail in recent years.

Eva is survived by her husband, Steve Holtzman; their son, Theo Holtzman, 13; and stepchildren Marika Holtzman Hodge, 27; and Alex Holtzman, 23. Eva is also survived by her mother, Dr. Betty Cohen; brother Stefan Cohen; sister-in-law Debbie Gilman; and nephew Adin Gilman-Cohen, 19. She also leaves many cousins, nephews and nieces, other relatives and friends from around the globe.