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Dr. Robert Cotsen, who made house calls on his bicycle, dies at 86


Jan. 27, 1931 – Feb. 11, 2017

Dr. Robert S. Cotsen was all Buffalo, but not the kind of man who guzzled beer or gorged on chicken wings. Instead, he found joy jogging in Delaware Park every morning, shoveling his Middlesex Road walk, searching garage sales for antiques and biking down Delaware Avenue to his Buffalo Medical Group office.

He even made house calls, on his bike.

"He was a different slice of Buffalo, an eccentric," said one of his five children, Teddy.

Dr. Cotsen, a Buffalo internist for almost 40 years, died Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital under Hospice care. He was 86.

A native of South Orange, N.J., Dr. Cotsen graduated from Dartmouth College in 1952. After college, he attended Harvard Medical School, following what he recalled as a bizarre admissions interview. Instead of the usual questions, the interviewer reviewed his record, looked him in the eye and said, “Cotsen, I see you worked in Greenland. Tell me about the sex life of the Eskimo.”

Dr. Cotsen gulped and apparently came up with an appropriate answer.

After medical school, he joined the U.S. Air Force as a medical officer, stationed in England between the Korean and Vietnam war eras. While in England, he proposed by mail to a young Buffalo woman he had met in Boston, Patricia Maisel.

The Cotsens married in England and moved to Buffalo in the early 1960s, living on Middlesex Road for 47 years. Dr. Cotsen spent most of his career with the Buffalo Medical Group, as a general practitioner specializing in internal medicine and hematology before retiring in 1999.

Except during the harshest winter days, he began his day by jogging two laps around nearby Delaware Park. At one point, he wrote Mayor Griffin to say that the road around the park didn't get plowed well. When the next snowstorm hit, Dr. Cotsen discovered the road around the park had been plowed to the pavement. That afternoon, he received a friendly phone call from the mayor, making sure he had enjoyed his morning run.

Family members said he was passionate about his patients and ahead of his time in bike commuting. Dr. Cotsen's rigorous daily routine included commuting by bicycle between his Middlesex Road home and the Buffalo Medical Group office downtown, about a 4-mile distance. He did two round trips per day, going home to eat a salad for lunch. And he always rode his bike armed with a flashlight, pens and a stethoscope.

"It was so my Dad," Teddy Cotsen said. "He was practical. He was eclectic. And he believed in the buzz of exercise."

His bike, patched together from recycled bicycle parts, was a common sight on Delaware Avenue, with its orange flag and streamers.

"It was not like an elite bike," former neighbor Sharon Linstedt recalled. "It was basic transportation."

As a physician, Dr. Cotsen made frequent house calls throughout the city, making good on his motto: "I'm only a phone call away."

"I loved having the Cotsens as neighbors on Middlesex," said Linstedt, the communications coordinator for Mayor Byron W. Brown. "He even made a few house calls when we were trying to figure out whether our kids needed stitches. If he saw me out running, he’d always want to know what I was training for. He was just so quirky and interesting. A wonderful human being."

Aside from medicine and his family of five children, Dr. Cotsen also was an avid collector of antique books and maps. On weekends, he often could be found  in Buffalo attics, at garage sales and at the Clarence Flea Market. He even landed on the Antiques Roadshow when the PBS program came to Toronto.

Dr. Cotsen had his own unpretentious style. He often was seen in his trademark short-sleeved Princeton sweatshirt -- his brother's alma mater -- and he kept his old yellow Volkswagen bug until the floor fell through, forcing him to sell it to a welder.

"Dad wasn't worried about image," his son said. "He was more interested in practicality."

That dates back to the time he caught a deflected puck at a Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup finals game in 1975. Wanting to give it to two of his daughters, he used his influence with the team doctor to get a second puck; no one in the family ever knew which was the authentic game souvenir.

Dr. Cotsen was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Patricia, who died in 2010. After her death, he moved to Maine and then to a retirement home in Los Angeles, to be closer to family members.

Surviving are three daughters, Brenda, Mimi Saker and Sarah; two sons, Adam and Teddy; 11 grandchildren; and his brother, Lloyd.

The family is planning a private memorial service.

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