Joan Cobitz

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Joan Cobitz

Joan Cobitz, a first-rate storyteller who never took a short-

cut in her narratives, gifted baker, in-house psychoanalyst,

resident coffeehouse pundit and true connoisseur of pithy

one-liners, died Monday morning, April 11, 2005, not five

weeks after holding forth in the hospital as if it were a salon,

surrounded by friends bearing bags of take-out Thai food,

vessels of homemade chicken soup and bowls of steaming

rice with freshly picked broccoli. She was being treated for

cancer. People gravitated toward Cobitz - for advice (sought

or not); for her strangely perverse good humor, for a

contrary and unpredictable point of view. She was

thoughtful. While dunking a biscotti in coffee, sitting with

her dog Sage (or Mango or Chutney) and looking for just

the right word, she’d tilt her head back, fix her eyes skyward

and preface her observations with, “I want to say...” Which

she would follow up with, “You remember the joke...” For

people with whom she had no sympathy, Cobitz , 72,

delivered two words: “Poor beast.” The bread she produced

every Wednesday and Friday afternoon at Brighter Day

Natural Foods was legendary. Knowing there were limited

loaves, devotees would start meandering into the store early

in the day, hoping to catch it just right. Everyone had a

favorite. Italian cornbread. Raisin-walnut. Seven-grain flax.

Sourdough French. The occasional cinnamon roll. If a child

appeared curious - or restless in the store - Cobitz, who also

baked for the DeSoto Hilton, would hand over a hunk of

dough to knead. She was generous with her recipes, too,

anxious to pass along what she knew. “She was pleased to

replace herself,” said her sister, Gail Pickus. During her

hospital stay, she reminded the folks at Brighter Day to post

the sign, “Joan will not be baking bread today.” “She

essentially raised me,” said Gail, 16 months younger. “If

someone was playing on the radio that she’d told me about,

she’d turn to me and say sharply, ’What is that!?’ We’d go

toe-to-toe occasionally, but then she’d spit back, ’Listen,

missy, don’t mimic me.’” On Tuesday, instead of her cache

of wax-paper wrapped loaves huddling on her baking tray,

there was a bouquet of forsythia and spirea. Her signature

desserts included a strawberry Charlotte, lemon bombe,

orange Marsala cake, flourless chocolate cake, stollen and

fruit cake and a linzer tort, which she’d occasionally FedEx

to her son, Tony, in a specially rigged cardboard box,

especially when he was trying to impress a new girlfriend.

For her Thursday night supper club, Cobitz would bring

clam spaghetti, bouillabaisse, white bean and kale soup,

baked and stuffed mackerel, lamb stew and seasonal

chutneys and preserves. She was a fearless cook, not unlike

her grandmother, Ethel Hamilton, who emigrated from the

Black Sea in Odessa, Russia, settling first in Gary, Ind. -

where with no money she opened a deli - then Chicago,

where Cobitz was raised. Like her father, Boris, an

advertising artist who would paint dishes like coq au vin on

the linoleum floors of their rented apartment, Cobitz had an

active mind and a gift for art. She studied with Mauricio

Lasansky at the University of Iowa, where she earned a

masters degree in printmaking, and was one of the early

instructors at the fledgling Savannah College of Art and

Design. Several years ago, she curated a major show at the

Telfair Museum on the work of the celebrated and late artist,

Larry Connatser, Cobitz’ companion for 35 years. She was

uncompromising in her baking and her opinions and if she

wasn’t the first to say, “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” she might as

well have been. She rarely gave an offhanded compliment.

“She could be blunt and still not hurt someone’s feeling,”

said Janie Brodhead, co-owner of Brighter Day, where

Cobitz has worked for decades. “I learned from Joan that

everyone doesn’t have to be so nice all the time. She taught

us a lot.” Joan’s survivors include her son, Tony, sister, Gail

Pickus, three nephews and scores of friends. Graveside

services will be held today April 13, 2005 at 4 p.m., at

Bonventure Cemetery with Rabbi Arnold M. Belzer

officiating. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to

Hospice Savannah, Inc., 1352 Eisenhower Dr., Savannah,

GA. 31406 or the Humane Society.  Hubert C. Baker 

Funeral Home  7415 Hodgson Memorial Dr  Savannah, GA.

31401  (912) 927-1999  Savannah Morning News, April 13,


written by Jane Fishman

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