Jerry Cochran — remembered for helping to create the most recent “golden age” at Pitt in his 19-year stint as executive vice chancellor — died Aug. 1 at 69.
Cochran’s numerous contributions, said Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg at the Aug. 17 memorial celebration for his one-time School of Law student and administrative colleague, “included helping to build a culture that was fueled both by high institutional ambition and a genuine concern for the people of Pitt; deploying his very considerable negotiating skills to maintain employee health-care coverage that was affordable even during challenging times; not only building and renovating buildings but beautifying campuses and keeping them clean and attractive; assembling a legal team that helped ensure we did things in the right way but that we also were no longer a push-over but, instead, were positioned to ensure that our institutional interests were advanced; (and) stepping in whenever his special skills could make a difference — something that we often saw, for example, in athletics.”
Born May 31, 1949, in Fox Chapel, Jerome “Jerry” Cochran earned bachelor’s degrees in 1971 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in administration of justice and political science, then joined UPMC Presbyterian Hospital as unit manager, where he pioneered the formation of clinical practices for hospital physicians. He then joined Pitt under Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar as assistant senior vice chancellor, aiding in the formation of similar practice plans among faculty in the University’s health sciences schools.
In the late 1980s, Cochran shifted careers, entering Pitt’s law school, then joining the law firm of Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney downtown. By 1995, he was looking to return to the University, Nordenberg recalled.
Cochran was executive vice chancellor 1995-2014, where his oversight included public safety and Pitt’s business offices, adding the post of general counsel, 2004-2013. He retired in 2014, after also having served, across both his stints at Pitt, as assistant senior vice president for health sciences, interim dean of the School of Pharmacy, director of planned giving, interim vice chancellor for business and finance and interim athletic director.
Rich Colwell, who began two decades as a top officer for Staff Council just as Cochran rejoined the University, termed Cochran “quite easily one of the toughest administrators I have ever had the pleasure of working with, but he was always fair, and he always had the best interest of staff at the forefront. When there were policy changes, decisions or matters that would affect staff, Jerry would make sure that the Staff Council had the opportunity to voice their opinion before any final action was taken or announced.”
“Jerry was fearless,” recalled Nordenberg, noting that one Pitt board chairman dubbed Cochran “Pitt’s pitbull or Rottweiler” early on.
“Among other things, he possessed an amazing combination of book smarts and street smarts,” Nordenberg remarked at the celebration. “Jerry was a master diagnostician of situations. He could almost intuitively size up any set of circumstances — promising or threatening — and quickly map out a mental plan for dealing effectively with them.
"Jerry was a great team player,” he added, “strongly voicing his individual views when alternatives were being debated but working hard to advance the option ultimately chosen. Jerry also was a great steward of institutional resources, getting as much as he could out of every Pitt dollar.”
Cochran’s work overseeing the facilities division left its mark across campus, Nordenberg said, “from the Peterson Events Center, to the Biomedical Science Tower, to the Schenley Plaza Park, to the new residence halls on the upper and lower campuses, to the completely renovated Alumni Hall, to the cleaned and repaired exterior of the Cathedral of Learning. And that list does not even include the transformational projects undertaken on all four of our regional campuses.”
The public safety building on Forbes Avenue was renamed in Cochran’s honor, upon his retirement. It was a fitting tribute to a man, concluded Nordenberg, who “spent most of his career here, where his work positively touched the lives of everyone who worked at Pitt, or studied at Pitt or in some other way was connected to Pitt.”
He is survived by his wife, Cathy; children Jill, Jason and Joshua; brother James; and grandchildren Emma, Jamie and Max.
Memorial contributions are suggested to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.