When Jerry Cochran was retiring from his position as Pitt’s chief business officer in 2014 — a position he held for 19 years — former Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg thought he should be the one to pen him a farewell. So he wrote a piece for the University Times.
“Jerry always put the University of Pittsburgh first, took great pride in impact generated through our teaching and research, and was the ultimate team player,” Nordenberg wrote.
Nordenberg’s relationship with Cochran was complex. They first met as colleagues at Pitt when Nordenberg was the interim dean of the law school and Cochran was the interim dean of the School of Pharmacy. Cochran then became one of Nordenberg’s students when he went to get his law degree and eventually became his most trusted partner as Nordenberg’s executive vice chancellor.
Jerome “Jerry” Cochran died in his Cranberry home Wednesday, Aug. 5, due to pulmonary complications. He was 69 years old.
Cochran first came to the University in the early ’70s, when he was just in his early 20s, hired by then-Chancellor Wesley Posvar as assistant senior vice chancellor. Along with his position as executive vice chancellor from 1995 until 2014, Cochran was the general counsel from 2004 until 2013.
Though Pitt wasn’t his alma mater — Cochran graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1971 with bachelor’s degrees in political science and administration of justice — Cochran was committed to Pitt for life and passionate about his work at the University.
Cochran left Pitt to practice law in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But when Nordenberg took over as interim chancellor, Cochran reached out.
“When I became the interim chancellor of the University, I got a letter from Jerry saying that he would really like to come back to the University and making a pledge to me that if I brought him back I would never regret it, which proved to be the case,” Nordenberg said.
Nordenberg said Cochran was an easy hire because of his passion for Pitt and the intelligence he displayed.
“I knew that Jerry loved the University of Pittsburgh and would work hard to advance it, which is a quality that you would prize in somebody you’re bringing onto your team,” Nordenberg said. “But I also know that he had this distinctive combination of book smarts and street smarts. He was able to size up situations and almost instinctively know how to deal with them most effectively, whether they were challenges or opportunities.”
One of Cochran’s responsibilities during his time at Pitt was heading facilities management. During his tenure, he and his team built Schenley Plaza, the Petersen Events Center, Sennott Square and Bouquet Gardens, among others.
“Jerry’s fingerprints were really all over the campus,” Nordenberg said.
Nordenberg remembered the impact Cochran had in some of his hiring decisions as well. In his time at Pitt, Cochran made a few landmark hires.
“He hired the first and only woman that ever has managed facilities … he hired the first and only woman to serve as the police chief for the University of Pittsburgh,” Nordenberg said. “So some of the good work he did was a reflection of his ability to recognize talent wherever it might exist and to recruit it and deploy it for the benefit of the University.”
Cochran was frequently placed in a position of leadership during his tenure at Pitt and was respected as a leader and coworker by those that worked closest to him.
“Jerry was fun to be around. People who worked for him were devoted to him because he was demanding but fair,” Nordenberg said. “And people would say you never were in doubt about where you stood with Jerry Cochran, because if you were doing well he would tell you directly and if you had slipped up he’d tell you that at least as directly.”
When Cochran wasn’t doing work for the University, he enjoyed his time as an avid motorcyclist. He would go on long motorcycle trips around the country with a small group of friends, including some of his colleagues on the Pitt Board.
The former chancellor remembered his colleague and friend as both a vital member of the Pitt community and someone who shaped the University into what it is today.
“I would just say very directly, the University of Pittsburgh never could have made the progress it did as an institution without Jerry Cochran’s efforts,” Nordenberg said.
One of Nordenberg’s proudest achievements is one that he thinks Cochran would’ve said he was equally proud of — helping revive the City of Pittsburgh during their shared 19-year tenure.
“Jerry spent all of his life here. The fact that we were in leadership positions at Pitt at a time when Pittsburgh had been in decline and what we did at Pitt was a central piece in the rebirth of PIttsburgh and its economy was a sense of great satisfaction to me and I assume that it was perhaps an even greater sense of satisfaction to him as a native son,” he said.