Remembering Jerry Cochran

Jerome "Jerry" CochranLarger than life. Indispensable. A brilliant negotiator. And a man who loved Pitt.

Those were common themes repeated at a recent tribute to Jerome “Jerry” Cochran, the retired executive vice chancellor and chief business officer at Pitt who passed away Aug. 1 at the age of 69.

Former university Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg welcomed Cochran’s family and friends to the University Club on Aug. 17 for a celebration to remember the man who played a vital role in projects that took place from 1995 through 2014, a time of significant growth and beautification on the Pittsburgh campus.

In 2002, the Petersen Events Center opened to host athletics events, commencements, concerts and more. Biomedical Science Tower 3 was built three years later. A parking lot became the grassy expanse called Schenley Plaza. The dark exterior of the Cathedral of Learning was cleaned. New residence halls were built. Alumni Hall opened. And those are just a few examples of projects on which Cochran was an instrumental figure.

“Our progress would not have been possible without Jerry,” Nordenberg told the gathering of about 250, including Cochran’s widow Cathy, other family members, friends and former coworkers. “Jerry was fearless. He would take on anyone who stood in the way of moving Pitt forward.”

Cochran’s high school baseball coach and English teacher Don Fritz became a close friend over the years. “‘Give me a challenge!’ was a hallmark of Jerry’s,” Fritz recalled. He said Cochran was a leader at Fox Chapel High School before going on to Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he majored in political science and administration of justice.

That leadership was still in evidence years later when Cochran worked at Pitt, helping to trim expenses while overseeing more than $1 billion in new projects.

Mark Nordenberg speaking at ceremony for Jerry Cochran“Jerry had an amazing combination of book smarts and street smarts,” said Nordenberg.

“He could look at any set of circumstances and make a mental plan of how to best deal with those circumstances.”

It was also noted that Cochran at one time had about a dozen different offices that reported to him, including student housing, dining and transportation services. He cross-trained all of those staffers and created Panther Central, the go-to hub for all Pitt students’ needs.

Cochran was also responsible for seeing that the Pitt Police received updated training. No new officers were hired unless they were college graduates. That new training came into play on March 8, 2012, when the call came in for an active shooter in the lobby of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. Pitt police were first on the scene and did not wait for a SWAT team to arrive, as had been a common practice until then. The gunman was taken down by a Pitt officer. “Our police dealt with that situation in a way that almost certainly saved countless lives,” said Nordenberg.

Cochran was a team player, albeit a feisty one.

Randy Juhl, former dean of Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, recalled a meeting with Cochran that became a heated discussion.

“Voices were raised. Fingers were wagged. And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said Juhl.

Jamie Dixon speaking at ceremony for Jerry CochranJamie Dixon, who served as Pitt’s men's basketball coach from 2003 to 2016, traveled from Fort Worth, Texas, to attend the celebration of Cochran’s life. He told those gathered that Cochran was his go-to guy if he ever wanted to find out about something. Cochran always had the right answer, he said, and his love for Pitt came out in every conversation.

“Jerry was my coach here at Pitt,” said Dixon.

Former Provost James V. Maher credited Cochran for initiatives that boosted the overall success rates of Pitt’s students. The list of his achievements seemed endless, Maher added.

“Jerry’s contributions were so significant that we could never adequately thank him,” Nordenberg said as the program ended. “But we all can respect, and give added impact to, his contributions by remaining committed to an ever-better Pitt, by building effectively on the extraordinary work that he did here, and by keeping his inspiring example in our hearts and minds.”