Phyllis Cohen

Phyllis Cohen

02 October 1931
Stepney, London, United Kingdom
09 May 2024
London, United Kingdom
Words by
Nicole Zelmanovits Daughter

A light has gone out that can never be rekindled. Our beautiful Mummy, Nanna, Great Nanna, Sister, Auntie, Cousin and Best Friend, has left us and there are no words, only heartbreak. Yesterday was a day that I have dreaded for the best part of my life. This time last year, we were running around here, there and everywhere, not imagining what was to come in the months that followed. A proud woman that had always been the height of independence and doing everything for everyone, becoming dependent on others for the simplest of tasks. This upset her immensely.

an abundance of love, security, fun, laughter and music

There are many words to describe our wonderful Mummy but the two that sum her up, class and elegance, a lady in every sense of the word and a true Eyshet Chayil, turning heads wherever she went and always underplaying her worth, but all she had to do was walk into a room and the rest was history. She was turning heads until the very end, loved and adored by her wonderful carers, nurses, and all who came into contact with her. We would like to mention here that the care she received in the community was beyond words and we are truly grateful for the love and respect she received from all.

Anthony and I had a childhood that was second to none, hence the fact that neither of us ever felt the need to leave home until marriage beckoned – a home where there was an abundance of love, security, fun, laughter and music. She and our Daddy were parents personified, always encouraging, but never forcing us to do anything. Weekends were heaven, whether at the cinema, theatre, or out for Sunday tea with our Poppa Sam, Jackie, Warren and Julia. Not to mention all the wonderful parties we had up in our little flat, moments that we can never recapture but are blessed to have them as cherished memories. Mummy was always our hostess with the mostest.

a doer not a talker

As a little girl I sometimes found her to be quite formidable, but as I grew into adulthood came more and more to respect her strength of character and was very much in awe of her. She was loving and caring, a doer not a talker and thus became our matriarch and our rock. She gave us strong morals and a good set of values to live by. The pride that I felt for her as a child, I felt to the very end. She adored her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and all will have their own precious memories of the wonderful times they shared with her.

We were blessed to have her for ninety two years and so happy we were able to have her live with us these past few months and be able to look after her. The love and respect shown to her from our wonderful Hilary Dennis family touched her, and us, very deeply. We can’t thank you enough for the wonderful welcome you extended to her and the kindness and respect shown to her throughout. Likewise from her wonderful House Managers at Aztec House and to our wonderful Sue, who has been a rock to us all.

class and elegance

And so, our darling Mummy has gone to sleep and none of our lives will ever be the same. Soon to be reunited with our darling Daddy (the only man she ever loved), our dearest Uncle Warren and her beloved family, including all her aunts and uncles who she adored. Our hearts go out to our precious Auntie Jackie, who has lost her husband and big sister within the space of five months. Ironically, they were in the same hospital, on the same floor, at the same time in different wards, but opposite windows and we take comfort in the fact that they will now be together again. We promise to aways look after her and our dear cousin Julia as we have all been inseparable these past months.

May Hashem grant us the strength to carry on without her by our side. We know she will always be with us spiritually, but will miss her physical presence forever and always.

We thank you for all your lovely messages, kind words and support. Mummy would have been deeply touched to know she was held in such high esteem.

G-d rest her dear soul.

Words by
Elliot Zelmanovits Grandson

I’d like to start by thanking you for coming, and for the love and support everyone has shown me and my family these last few days; it has only laid bare the amount of respect people had for my Nanna, and the sheer number of messages we have received, from people who knew her well to those who barely or didn’t know her at all has been overwhelming. Your words have been a huge comfort.

Hello, my pet

Nanna, where do I begin? “At the start would be a good idea”, I can hear her telling me as I write this, so here we go. From when I was born until I was six years old, Nanna lived at 55 Carlton Mansions, Holmleigh Road, Stamford Hill. As a toddler, I have clear memories of pulling up to the flat in my Mum’s white Fiat Uno, “Binky”, peering out the back window and seeing Nanna waving down from the balcony, already cementing the idea of my Nanna as royalty. We’d park up and by the time I was out the car she’d be down the four flights of stairs her arms wide open as I’d run as fast as I could into them. “Hello, my pet” was her greeting to me all the way through.

Those very early years were blissful. Bath time with bubbles, playing building blocks, the three little pigs, watching Disney films, her favourite being Snow White, which her Auntie Ada took her to see in 1937, around the same age I was when Nanna showed it to me, and hiding under the tea trolley with Rambo the cat, who when I went to have one of my own, named it Rainbow after him. And, of course, dressing up in her clip-on earrings and scarves and putting on shows for her and my Mum; never for Poppa to see, only Nanna. She was the only person I wanted to sit next to in the car and the only person I wanted to make me smoked salmon sandwiches (squares or triangles, depending which way the wind blew).

Nanna was no fuss, but emitted love and warmth….she was a lady

And for every actual memory I have of her in Stamford Hill, there were years’ worth of legends I’d come to hear about as I grew up that have now become family lore; from the parties she used to host filled with her many uncles, aunts and cousins, to doing housework whilst her beloved first cat Bubbles lay wrapped around her neck, to the way she sat, beautifully when taking a phone call on the chair in the hall way (though they mustn’t have blinked or they’d have missed her sat there, as this was the woman whose phone conversations usually consisted of something like, “Hi. How are you? Oh good. Alright then I’ll speak to you later. Bye”). What she couldn’t say or be said over the phone in a few words wasn’t worth saying. Nanna was no fuss, but emitted love and warmth, opting not to be the centre of attention, though inevitably always was. As everyone who ever met her noted, she was a lady.

After forty nine years of marriage, Poppa passed in 2001 when she moved to Aztec House where she lived until she came to live with us here last September. As the big family my Mum and Uncle had grown up with began to wane, Nanna continued to host birthdays, Jewish holidays, and Christmases,

only retired just before her eightieth birthday

and was still up at six o’clock every morning driving down the Lea Bridge Road to go to work for her beloved Sikh family of doctors who she adored, and only retired just before her eightieth birthday.

Through my teens and into young adulthood Nanna and I shared a whole lot of interests most of all her love of music (she, like my Mum, was a truly gifted singer) and films, our favourite being Rebecca, and Scrooge every Christmas Eve. Everything I absorbed. It’s why now, I can talk as much about Judy Garland and Burt Bacharach as I can Charli XCX and Lady Gaga. And not to mention all the musicals.

We both loved the winter nights and could never wait for the clocks to go back. I think we enjoyed the fact that we were anomalies together in this. Though saying this, she truly enjoyed trees, nature and the flowers summer produced.

Our bond only grew stronger. After my Mum, she was the second person I came out to and will never forget her telling me on her sofa that Friday afternoon, both of us teary eyed, that she loved me no matter what. Besides, most of the big names in music and Hollywood she loved so much were gay anyway so I guess I shouldn’t have worried.

She, like so many of her generation, loved the royal family and its history, and so I, long before my Barmitzvah portion, was reciting the names of the six wives of Henry VIII and discussing the importance of the Magna Carta with her.

As an adult, she followed my career closely, if not fully understanding my role as a producer, she certainly enjoyed watching the finished product. She was my biggest fan, and visibly glowed if ever I told her I’d gotten a job through recommendation. A good name meant everything to her.

still making us laugh right up until the end

This last year was not easy. Nanna had been in hospital, and it was clear it had taken a big toll on her. As the proud woman I always knew, I found it hard to watch, and admittedly at times was frustrated to see her not being able to do things she used to be able to with such ease. “Hold your back up straight” she used to say as it became harder for her to do so herself. It was a very confusing time for everyone. Still, she continued to put her make up on, and I’d always have to show her anytime I’d buy a new moisturiser, Nanna insisting No7 was still the best.

In the final few months, though weaker, she would sit giving us every second of attention she could muster and took a lot of pleasure from numerous daily visits from the carers who we can’t thank enough for everything they did for Nanna in those months, as well as extra special visits and cuddles with baby Emmie Bess. We are blessed to have had her with us participating in Seder a few weeks ago, and she was still making us laugh right up until the end. The way my Mum loved her and cared for her in the final months can’t be overstated and, alongside a million other reasons, I am so proud to call her my mother. It was clear to everyone; my Mum worshiped the ground she walked on and so did I.

On Thursday morning I left for work as I know she would have wanted, and she passed shortly after. I will miss my Nanna more than I can say. To me she was my Nanna, to everyone else she was simply, Nanna. Birthday’s will never be the same, particularly this coming one, and she would have celebrated her own five days before mine. “You were my birthday present” she would say. Our Libran Lady. She was indeed a great beauty, but even more on the inside.

In the words of our favourite song we used to sing together, ‘Guilty’: Her love was “one in a million”, she’s “Got a highway to the sky”.

May her memory be a blessing.