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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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July: Life Lessons
July 2023

In my 43 years at this desk, I believe I’ve penned three columns reflecting on people in the billiard industry who had passed away. It’s a delicate subject for a writer to share feelings about close friends whom readers may or may not have known. Of course, over a stretch that long I’ve lost more than three dear friends and important industry figures, so it takes more than simple kinship to share loss with readers.

From a personal standpoint, the sudden death of Championship LLC President Fred Cohen has been difficult to understand and accept for many reasons. We were friends for more than 30 years. We chatted virtually every week and saw each other numerous times during the year. We shared dinners, social outings, industry functions and numerous snowmobile trips. He was a man of limitless enthusiasm, curiosity, intelligence and adventure. I believe that, in Fred Cohen Time, hours were actually 65 minutes, his days were 26 hours, and every year was a leap year. It’s the only way to explain how one man could squeeze so much out of life.

And it wasn’t just play time, although no one enjoyed toys and adventure time more than Fred. His mind was always working when it came to his business, the billiard industry and any of the numerous causes to which he constantly offered his services.

There’s an old Hunter S. Thompson quote which I’ve always used as a measuring stick of sorts in assessing people whose lives I greatly admired.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely, softly,” Thompson wrote. “But rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

It was, indeed and amazing — albeit far too short — ride for Fred Cohen.

But the primary reason I chose to share this story is because Fred Cohen, to me, embodied so much of what I love about the billiard industry.

For starters, for more than 30 years we dealt with each other on a business level. I contacted him every month about advertising in the magazine, worked with him at the board level with the Billiard Congress of America, and leaned on him and his company for support of projects dear to me like the BCA Hall of Fame Banquet. He always answered the phone, and he always answered “the call.” Never once did he fail to support something that I felt strongly about relative to billiards. And his help often went beyond simply cutting a check.

In the industry, Fred could be a polarizing figure. He was a man of strong conviction and strong opinion. And he never minded going toe-to-toe with anyone on any topic relative to the billiard business. We had our fair share of differences of opinion on various subjects. But those differences never degenerated to friendship-severing levels. The friendship was too important.

Do people in this industry know how lucky we are to have relationships that last 20, 30, 40 years? Talk to your friends who are professionals in other industries. They rarely talk to the same person twice in a six-month period in dealing with companies in most fields of business. And those are the relationships that morph into lifelong friendships. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never even considered leaving billiards. Between the players and businesspersons, you’re able to be part of a true family.

And Fred was always trying to increase the size of that family. He was, to lean on his Jewish heritage, like the character “Yente” — the matchmaker — in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” He didn’t see why competing companies had to be enemies if the people in those companies were interesting, entertaining, and friendly. Fred was an organizer, and one of his favorite adventures was the annual snowmobile trip he dubbed “SnoMo.” Each year he would corral 10-12 industry people for a gathering in northern Wisconsin for four or five days of riding the trails and hanging out. Fred, the ultimate adult camp counselor, would get giddy with excitement six months ahead of time, organizing the lodging, sled rentals, and food and games program. And each year he’d add one or two industry leaders he thought would fit into the existing core group. It didn’t matter who you worked for or what your position was. If Fred thought you were good conversation, fun and not afraid to mingle with business competitors, you might be invited on the trip. SnoMo was never about schmoozing and making deals. Hell, I was fortunate enough to be invited for the past 14 years and I was not a “customer.” In fact, Fred’s company has been a monthly advertiser forever. He owed me nothing. I owed him.

Fred’s motive was simply to match good people with good people. That annual trip resulted in amazing friendships between more than a few people whose companies competed against each other for customers. In Fred’s world, friendships and camaraderie were infinitely more important than business.

I learned a lot by witnessing Fred’s zeal for life and love of the billiard industry. And I think the best way to honor my friend would be to adopt more of his life philosophy into my own.

So, while today I mourn, tomorrow I’m going to start living my Freddie life.

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