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Remembering Sarah Cohen-Doherty

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

As you may already know, we were devastated to learn that our beloved colleague Sarah Cohen-Doherty passed away unexpectedly this week. Sarah was a ray of sunshine and exemplified what it is to be a community change-maker. We are deeply grieving this loss. Sarah was laid to rest on July 26th at a private family burial and a virtual shiva minyan was held on July 27th.

Sarah was not simply our Community Impact Manager, she was the heart of our team. Her passion and commitment to SVP’s work shone brightly, and it reverberated throughout our Partnership. We have been overwhelmed with messages of admiration and support from so many of you, and they have meant a great deal to our team. Sarah was truly loved and will be profoundly missed.

Gifted with the trifecta of intelligence, dedication, and charm, Sarah chose a clear path to making a positive impact in her community. She joined SVP Portland in 2017 after earning a master’s degree in teaching from Willamette University and working as a teacher, education program coordinator, and communications project manager. Her diverse experience brought a wealth of knowledge to SVP, and the organization has been enriched greatly because of it. Sarah lived SVP, not just as staff, but as a true partner.

And Sarah didn’t join alone — she brought her family with her. Her husband Brian, an early contributor to what is now the Financial Partner Team, shared that, “Sarah was my true soulmate. A connection neither of us expected to find in this life and celebrated throughout our relationship. Her passion for the work SVP was doing was something I heard almost daily. Thank you for being something good enough and important enough that she truly loved what she did. And she knew we all need to keep moving forward and making this world a better place, that what we do is truly important.”

Her father Jerry and mother Ruth were first active volunteers and donors before becoming engaged Partners in 2018. “Sarah was so happy and proud of the work of SVP,” Jerry and Ruth shared. “Sarah was a shooting star that shined so bright and impacted so many people. And we are very proud of her and her many achievements, especially her lifelong dedication to children, early childhood literacy and education, and bringing generations together. We honor her legacy.”

The majority of what you have read in our newsletters, on our blog, and on social media has been written by Sarah. We struggle to do this memorial justice and, as we write these words, we can’t help but hear her critiques, both playful and exacting. With steadfast purpose to seek clarity, transparency, and warmth, Sarah was always striving to share with you the best of SVP and the transformational impact that we make in our community.

We will not be the same without Sarah, and we know she would not only expect us to move forward, she would demand it (with graceful persistence). Her voice may be quieted, but her indelible mark on SVP will never be forgotten.

At the request of her family, we have established The Sarah Cohen-Doherty Memorial Fund, dedicated to SVP Portland’s goal that all children have access to high-quality, culturally-relevant early learning experiences. Donations to this fund will support early childhood literacy, quality preschool, and advocacy. We cannot think of a better way to celebrate Sarah’s life than to continue the work to which she was so committed.


  1. Kerry McClenahan

    What a beautiful tribute to Sarah, who was warmth and love personified. I will miss her warm hugs, quick smiles and contagious enthusiasm for life, work, family.

  2. Sarah Marin

    I’m so very sorry to hear this. Sarah was wonderful to work with—positive, reasonable, persistent, appreciative. I will miss her. My heart goes out to her family and her SVP family.

  3. Joyce

    I never saw Sarah without a smile and can’t believe she is gone. We lost a bright light and caring spirit this week. I am so sad for our community but especially for Jerry,
    Ruth and Brian. It is hard to cope with the loss of one so young and full of life.

  4. Ron Eiseman

    Sarah knew how to make “rainy days” shine! She always had a smile on her face and always made those whom she touched smile as well, inside as well as outside. It was always a joy to work with her. Her commitment to what SVP does in our mission, was one of Sarah’s missions as well. That was abundantly clear. I will miss her, but keep her smile and commitment in my heart.

  5. Brenda Kelley

    What a beautiful and meaningful tribute to Sarah. I was not fortunate enough to know her. Your tribute helped me see and feel the wonderful work she did and the wonderful things your agency is doing in Portland. I worked with Sarah’s wonderful father for many years. I am so sad about the death of his beautiful and amazing Sarah.

  6. Joyce Dunn

    I am so, so sad and sorry to hear about you losing your amazing daughter. I cannot imagine the pain and loss your family are feeling. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  7. Joan

    While I didn’t know Sarah for very long, we became instant soul sisters. I fell in love with her beautiful heart and a smile that brightened up any room. She was so passionate about her work and being of service. She inspired me!

    I feel so fortunate to have met Sarah. Her spirit will shine bright in my life and will encourage me along as part of the SVP family, and the family of nonprofits who I look forward to meeting and serving with as much love and compassion that Sarah had done.

    With love and deep appreciation,

  8. Ingrid Anderson

    Bria, Ruth and Jerry, Sarah was a bright light in this world. She was an amazing thought partners in advocating for young children. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Sarah’s gifts will continued to honored in the work that is done, I will never forget her impact on my life.

  9. Bob

    Sarah … with an incandescent smile, an optimistic and upbeat outlook, and a full and generous heart. What a treasure to have known you, even for a few short years! Thank you for your generosity of spirit and grace.

    To Brian, Mr & Mrs Cohen – Sarah was a gift to all of us. Thank you for sharing her so freely. May her memory be a blessing.

  10. Jane Williams-Grube

    Sarah was my ray of light. When I left the SVP community, we continued to met monthly for an end-of-day glass of wine. Sarah gave joy in every interaction. That gift, combined with deep intelligence and commitment is a rare gift. I will miss her greatly

  11. Miriam Oliensis-Torres

    I never had the privilege of meeting Sarah, but have been friends with Jerry and Ruth for many years. Whenever we would connect, they shared their joy and pride in being part of her life’s journey. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire family at this time of loss.

  12. Wendy Weissman

    An incredible loss. Sarah’s vibrant and warm presence will be so missed. I’m holding her family in my heart.

  13. Meg McElroy

    My heart is with the SVP team, Sarah’s family and loved ones. Such a tragic loss. Sarah left a legacy of love and commitment for a better future for us all. Sending my deepest sympathy to Brian, Jerry, Ruth and everyone at SVP. Peace to you.

  14. Judy Strand

    I am thankful to have had a chance to work with Sarah through SVP meetings and events, and to have experienced her warm, bright spirit and dedicated professionalism in all that she endeavored. It seems almost too soon to write this, and yet, I want to offer what little comfort possible to her family, co workers and close friends by acknowledging this profound loss – I will be thinking of all of you as time goes forward from this moment.

  15. Pam Harkins

    I remember when I first started working with Jerry at AARP Oregon, he had a conflict with his job and a commitment he had made to Sarah. His response was not surprising when he told me “Sarah comes first.” And he rearranged things he had to do to meet that obligation. And I’ll never forget the commute he had to make from Beaverton to Clackamas because Sarah had chosen to go to high school Sunset High School! I drove him home once after getting back from a conference in Seattle and it’s a long, congested commute–but there was never any hesitation that he would do it for her.

  16. Jodi Hummer

    In my short time knowing Sarah, I felt an immediate connection and fondness for her. I can only imagine the impact she has made on others she has known for some time. My thoughts and sympathy are with her family and everyone impacted, which are clearly many. Sarah was clearly an incredible individual.

  17. David Kahl

    Sarah was such a force of light and love. I am so grateful to have been able to know her and work with her over the years to witness her charity, strength and compassion. To my dear friend Brian and Mr & Mrs Cohen, I am holding you all very close to my heart.

  18. Danita Huynh

    I am forever thankful for all the dedication that Sarah has provided to the Early Learning communities. She was instrumental in support and guidance for IRCO as we partnered w/SVP in developing our preschool business plan and preschool research project.I will remember her sweet smile, compassion and generosity.

  19. Kirt Nilsson

    Sarah’s light never has and never will dim. Let’s all show up for our community like Sarah did every day, putting others first — she’d hope for nothing less and expect as much from us.

  20. Becca Guyot

    I will remember Sarah always for her invigorating energy and enthusiasm, her passion for making the world a better place, her intense and loving inclusiveness, and her brilliant smile. She was a true light, and that light will remain in the world even after she has gone.

  21. Alan Finn

    Oh wow. So sad and stunned. Sarah was such a bright light and made my time as a Portland partner a joy. A shining example of how service works.

  22. Liz Fouther-Branch

    The one things I will miss about Sarah: Her smile, her willingness to respond to questions or get me to the right person if she couldn’t answer. I will miss her check ins and updates.

    Sarah is and will always be one of those bright stars that guide us through the darkness into the light. I miss you Sarah.

    My prayers go out to her husband, daughter and her loving parents.

  23. Lily Liu

    There is a Chinese proverb that says: “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.”

    I never had the fortunate opportunity to meet Sarah, but I “know” her because I am friends with her parents and I can imagine how beautiful their child has been throughout her life. Ruth and Jerry are loving, giving individuals and Sarah is their child. These two parents are good friends to their friends and Sarah is their child. Ruth and Jerry are servant leaders and Sarah is their child.

    My deepest sympathies to my dearest friends, Ruth and Jerry; Sarah’s husband and daughter; and the SVP Family.

  24. Steven Monblatt

    So sorry for your loss. I read somewhere that a person dies three times: when their heart stops beating; when they are buried; and when people stop saying their name. I don’t know if it is true, but every day I say the names of several people who were close to me. I hope you will do the same for Sarah, and that it will bring you comfort.

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