Henry S. F. Cooper
EULOGY for 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 Henrys 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 Henrys 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 doctorial 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.
IN MEMORIAM Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr.
Henry Cooper’s passing leaves me with a heavy heart and I am further distressed that I cannot attend his memorial service to express my sentiments and to express my condolences, as I will be in Germany on May 26. I am comforted, however, by remembering him not only as a valued member of my Yale Class of 1956 but also as a friend.
I knew him only by reputation as an undergraduate but was privileged to know and to cooperate with him often after graduation. I was impressed with him as a person of high moral character, of keen intelligence and of sardonic wit. His essays on his 21st birthday, on Beekman Cannon, on sneaking into Scroll and Keys, as a freshman coxswain, and tales of his army duty with Ben Scotch, on ordering a Coke at a very famous French restaurant, on retrieving David Calleo’s manuscript in Greece and of his movie debut, in which he spoke 8 words, and of his boat rides with Bill Murray and assorted dignitaries filled me with joy. He lived in between those cynics who so deplore human nature to live in the world of their imagination and those ameliorators who deplore human nature and live to improve it. Henry, God bless him, laughed at the world, at human nature and at himself and made us all laugh with him and thus assisted us to accept the world as it is. It was refreshing to read his work and to be in his presence.
And he left us much to read: as editor of the Pierson College publication, Slave, as feature editor of the Yale Daily News, as editor of Comment 56, our class newsletter, as editor of the Reunion Yearbook both for our 25th and 50th Reunions, and of five books on space and aviation. Most important was his writing for “Talk of the Town” of the New Yorker. I wrote a senior thesis for my undergraduate Intensive History Course. When I met with my tutor twice a month for a year and a half, he did not comment on any of the facts or composition of my 120 pages, but only complained of my writing on the first page, which struck him as awful. He advised me to read what he said was the best writing in America: “Talk of the Town”. This was several years before Henry was on board that good ship, but he no doubt rose to the quality that caught my tutor’s eye, as their authors were not and are not identified. I thankfully followed his advice for many years.
Henry and I worked together for our 20th Class Reunion, on our 25th Reunion, and on the Book Exhibit in Sterling Library for our 50Th Reunion, in which the published books of classmates and/or their wives were displayed. Three of Henry’s books were included. This close relationship earned me his “tap” as an Honorary Member of Manuscript, where I relished his company until he was afflicted with that horrible disease: I was crushed to learn of his suffering, a sorrow assuaged by knowing of the many awards and honors he received and by what I am confident will be more appropriate comments and eulogies that will occur tomorrow.
It’s been said one should not comment on the failings of the dead. Henry had no doubt failings, but I know of none. If any might have appeared in his writing or in the tales he told, they were mitigated by his satiric talent. As we say in the old sod, farewell, dear friend, and may the angels guide you on your way and welcome you into Paradise.
William H. H. Rees, May 25, 2016