My Turn: Dad, you were the real deal

  • Jim Cook is shown in 2014, after receiving, along with his wife, Marianne, the Panther Pot award from Concord Hospital for supporting the Emergency Department. Dave White

For the Monitor
Sunday, December 10, 2017

For years, when my dad, Jim Cook, was still running Concord Litho, one of his favorite daily activities was to take his newspapers – the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and the Concord Monitor – to the Red Blazer on Manchester Street.

At his usual corner table, he would sit and read for hours. Bent over the pages, he’d eat leisurely, glancing up every so often to observe who came and went, or shake the hand of another regular, or watch the everyday goings on between people from the perch of his own company.

I will keep the picture in my mind for a long time of how he smiled when I walked in for one of our lunch dates, closed the paper and stood for a hug.

“This is funny,” he would say and a story would follow like the one about a couple who tried to eat an entire meal while holding hands.

“The baked potato was a problem,” he said.

I would laugh.

Later, when he struggled with memory issues, I gave his stories back to him.

“This one was really funny,” I would say, and he would smile at his own forgotten tale.

Two years ago, when Alzheimer’s was gaining on him, and the cancer had begun to spread, we traded bimonthly lunches for weekly visits in his office. There, surrounded by photos of family members, some here, some gone, we talked about my brother Bill, who had passed away two years earlier.

“I miss my son, Bill,” he said to me one day, as if I were a neighbor or fellow train passenger instead of Bill’s sister.

“Nobody could resist him,” my father would recall. “He could make anyone laugh.”

When he was no longer engaged in the goings on around him, we all wondered where he was. I like to think he was visiting his past again, where his gone people were still alive and making him laugh.

One day, my father walked to a bulletin board and retrieved a folded up piece of paper, held in place by a yellow pushpin.

It was for his obituary, he said. “I don’t want to leave it to chance that people will know how I feel about them. So I wrote it down.” He asked me to be sure it was seen by his community.

Well, how he felt about people was going to large parties and introducing himself as “a printer,” rather than a board chairman. It was attending funerals of his employees’ parents, friends or children. It was chatting up a lost stranger on a street in Manhattan, or reaching out to a local family left homeless by a December fire. It was making himself a force behind the development of the Jim and Marianne Cook Emergency Department, as well as the Jim and Marianne Cook Radiation Oncology department at Concord Hospital.

Countless people have approached me with stories my father didn’t tell me; things he said or did to help them out of a dark corner of life.

I don’t know anyone less interested in celebrating himself than my father was. That is our job now.

Herewith, from that bulletin board, Jim Cook, on Jim Cook:

“I’d like to propose the following, to answer (now) a rhetorical question: ‘How would you like to be remembered?’

“I’d answer: As a ‘good’ man who married well, twice, and fathered six children – all beautiful, and one who left far too early, Billy.

“As a man who loved the city of Concord and, specifically its hospital – Concord Hospital – and who did his best to help and improve both.

“As a man who loved life, the funny parts of it, and the people in it.

“As a man who enjoyed and respected the absolute love of his life, Marianne, who introduced me to international traveling, including her native Germany, her loyal and adoring family, and various cousins and aunts.

“Marianne, who took impeccable care of me with love and respect, and protected me from my perceived hurts and some of life’s realities. I will miss our ‘thing.’

“And now, I must leave to rejoin my family: Dad, Mum, Peter and Michael.

“It’s been a great run.”

My father used the term “real deal” to describe people he admired most. When I was beginning my writing career, he balanced his enthusiasm for the chance that I’d “break out” with these words of caution: “Never believe your own press.”

Jim Cook loved his family, his community, his company and his employees, but mostly, he lived to be for all of us, the “real deal”; an everyman, able to connect on some level, with everybody.

Thank you, Dad. It was, indeed, a great run.

You were, indeed, the real deal.

(Susan Bonifant lives in Hopkinton.)