January 25, 2011

They Call Me Robert

This was the response to my question as to whether he was known as Bob, Bobby, Rob?  Well, alrighty, then.  I had been at DAR for not quite a week, charged with turning around a section with an awful reputation--late, late, embarrassingly late responses, poor customer service, surly employees, you know the drill.  I was met (as usual) with disdain and little to no cooperation.  The section was divided into three sections with some employees, including Robert, housed on another level--the basement, to be exact.  I hadn't made it down there but this tall gentleman swung through to make himself known.  It was the beginning of a friendship which I treasured. While his name was Robert, I called him Cooper or Mr. Cooper.  Can't remember ever calling him Robert.

Mr. Cooper was tall, over 6 ft.  A handsome, older man, with a penchant for physical fitness.  He walked religiously.  Every day.  I learned that he had survived a heart attack and that was a driving force for maintaining his weight and watching his diet.  Plus, as he told me, he had a young wife and a young daughter to live for.  He stayed on me about my smoking and lack of exercise.  Rode me about it, if the truth must be told.

Frugal is not an apt description.  Cooper could hold onto a penny until it screamed.  "I have $10 dollars a week to spend at work."  My mother promptly named him "Ten Dollar"  and asked about him often, though she'd never met him.  He'd gladly run an errand, picking up lunch from a store uptown but you'd have to pay for gas or buy his lunch. He'd rather have the cash.  To be such a penny-pincher, Mr. Cooper loved to shop.  Polo and Nike were his brands.  Anything else was second best.  And he could make a female green with envy over shopping the sales.

One of the fondest memories we shared and had several laughs over was the tremendous fight we had when he learned that I was sending him for computer classes.  He didn't need them; didn't have a computer; and wasn't going to use one.  Lawd, Lawd.  When a computer arrived on his desk, he was too through. Later, he announced that he was buying a computer for Robin, his daughter.  He mastered that awful machine enough to feel comfortable and often let me know that he appreciated my pushing him to learn the skill.  We exchanged emails regularly, with his latest one being a photo of his precious Robin.

Cooper had a green thumb and could get plants to grow in that dim area which was his home at DAR for 40 years.  When it was redesigned and modernized, he couldn't believe that I'd thought to include prints for his wall.

By now, you know that if I don't know the answer to something, I'm going to find it out.  "See, that's why they don't like you" would be his response when I came back with the answer to a question.  And, you also know that I don't step off from a fight.  I'd only been on the job a few months when evaluations and raises were given.  I could not believe the amount he was given or the rationale (at the top of the pay grade).  Out came the paper and pen (computer) and a detailed breakdown was given as to why he deserved more.  He got it. 

I watched Robin grow from a tween to a young adult.  Mr. Cooper was every bit the "proud papa."  Her opportunity to attend Howard's summer camp--he wasn't happy with her living away from home for that short period; prom; entrance into Morgan, and all the things in between were documented and shared.  The trips that he and Debra, his wife,  made.  I attended his mother's funeral and he attended my mother's.  "I knew you wouldn't let me down" was how he greeted me and others as we trooped in for his son's funeral. A very loving, family man.

Mr. Cooper retired at 65 and let me know with regularity how great retirement was. One of the first calls which I received upon moving to Ripley was from him.  I sent him a photograph recently of me and Serendipity and detailed what I was doing.  "Girl, you need a job!"

Yesterday, I came home to learn that my good friend had passed over the weekend.  His wife tells me that it was sudden.  He'd been hospitalized briefly but was home to celebrate his daughter's 22nd birthday that Saturday.  He passed that night.

When I think of Mr. Cooper, three things come to mind: 1) his enormous love for his family; 2) that he was able to enjoy his years of retirement; and 3) that he was able to watch that "young daughter" grown into a beautiful adult.

Debra says that she lost her friend.  So did I. 

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