Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr.

By David Calleo

Henry Cooper lived a long and rich life. His high intelligence, vigorous intellectual curiosity and energetic temperament made it likely that there would emerge several distinctive Henry’s over the course of that life. And so there were. There was the adolescent master of whimsy and irony who moved easily from the Yale Daily News to the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town. And before long there was another Henry, a gifted amateur scientist explaining the intricacies of the space program and the culture of the astronauts. Linked to his fascination with space was a love and respect for Nature. When “progress” threatened his beloved Glimmerglass he marshaled his formidable scientific knowledge to create a new Henry – the environmentalist. When politics threatened to override his science, he became Henry the political activist, effectively rousing his neighbors to defend their natural heritage. The local newspaper celebrated his success with a very satisfying editorial, “Brain Power Defeats Wind Power.” I took great pleasure in Henry’s success in these projects, but I was not part of them. I was in Washington and he was in Coopers town.

Our friendship went back to our youth at Yale. There, among other things, we had been passionately involved in establishing a new senior society; one whose values would reflect the great international university that Yale had become. Henry was an ideal advocate for the project and its message. No family was more deeply implanted at Yale. He loved the role of rebellious aristocrat but the secret of Henry’s success at Yale was not his pedigree, but his humor. Life around Henry was always tremendous fun and no friend was kinder or more thoughtful.

A regular feature of these Yale years was the Mediterranean summer. Several people participated but Henry and I had our core gang -my brother Rickey and my student Douglas Crowley. Over several summers we went from Lisbon to Istanbul. Most of the time we were on Greek islands or on the Adriatic or Tyrrhenian coast. These voyages had the usual quota of escapades and adventures. At one point we chartered a sailboat and were chugging down Italy’s western coast to Portofino. The weather was terrible. As a result we spent a lot of time inside the boat and Henry became progressively fed up. As we got to Portofino he disappeared completely. About two hours later there arrived at the boat a man in livery with a silver tray on which was an invitation to dinner. Needless to say the host was Henry, now happily esconced in the nearest luxury hotel.

A potentially catastrophic event was the near loss of my doctoral dissertation in the Greek sea. As you may know the harbor at Nauplia has an island fort turned into a hotel. One morning I was siting on the roof of this establishment perusing the final draft of my dissertation, congratulating myself at how good it was. Henry arrived with a tray of honey and a swarm of angry bees in pursuit. As I put down the dissertation to help Henry escape, a truly Homeric breeze came from nowhere, picked up the thesis and deposited it into the harbor below. It was the only copy. I immediately jumped into the water, and swam like a dog capturing pages in my mouth. At that time there arrived a group of Oxford undergraduates who turned out to be a swimming team. Henry quickly challenged them to dive for the remaining pages on the bottom. So they spent the rest of the day diving and Henry bought each of them a drink as they returned with a page. That was how a promising academic career was saved. Success was complete when an Englishwoman, also staying at the hotel, arrived complaining that a typewritten page about Coleridge had just blown through her window. Ether she, or the world had gone mad, she said. Things like that happened when Henry was around. His friendship was a gift from heaven.

David Calleo 5Y5, February 13, 2016