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Dr. C. Robert Cooke

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Dr. C. Robert Cooke Obituary
Dr. C. Robert Cooke

Memphis, TN

Dr. C. Robert Cooke, a pioneer in the provision of hemodialysis and an expert in diseases of the kidney, died at Methodist University Hospital, in Memphis, on February 28, 2017. The cause of death was pneumonia; he was 87.

Dr. Cooke was a Professor of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and Chief of Nephrology at the Veterans Administration Medical Center from 1985 until 2012. From 1967 to 1985, as Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, he directed two of the nation's earliest kidney dialysis units, at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and its affiliate The Good Samaritan Hospital. He devoted his more than 50-year career as a physician to teaching, patient care, and primary research. From 1998-2007, he served on the Scientific Advisory Committee at the University of Tennessee's Clinical Research Center, among other consultancies and committee appointments. He was the author or co-author of over 100 book, journal, and abstract publications on hemodialysis, hypertension, congestive heart failure, kidney transplant, and the relationship between spinal cord injuries and chronic kidney disease.

Born June 12, 1929, in Oak Hill, WV, Charles Robert Cooke (known as Bob) was the only child of G.M. (Major) Cooke, a barber, and Nelle Eads, a homemaker whose younger brother Charles was a doctor. On his father's side, Dr. Cooke was a descendant of John Cooke who emigrated from London to Virginia in 1772 (as indentured servant who had been shanghaied on the Thames, according to family legend) and later joined the American Revolutionary Army in 1777. John Cooke and his family were among of the earliest settlers of what is now Wyoming County, WV, which many generations of the Cooke family have since called home.

Bob Cooke graduated from Oak Hill High School, earned an A.B. from West Virginia University, in Morgantown, in 1950, and a B.S. in 1952 from the University's School of Medicine, a year after he and his college sweetheart, Mary Jeanne Cassell, were married in her hometown, Coalwood, WV. Encouraged by a perceptive professor who urged him to expand his professional horizon, Bob and Mary Jeanne moved to Baltimore, where he transferred to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and attained his M.D. in 1954, graduating first in his class.

After interning at Philadelphia General Hospital, Dr. Cooke spent 1955-57 as a Captain in the US Air Force based in Bangor, ME, and in Tuleh, Greenland, where he was stationed as a Flight Surgeon for the 71st Refueling Squadron, SAC. He retained cherished memories of the time he spent in Greenland, memorialized in slide shows and vivid stories of mid-air aircraft refuelings that later enthralled his children. Following a residency at Barnes Hospital, in St. Louis, and a Fellowship in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Cooke spent two years in private practice, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before returning to academic medicine and his first love, primary research, which he actively pursued until his retirement at the age of 81.

Dr. Cooke and his wife, Mary Jeanne, were married for 62 years (until her death in 2014); longtime residents of Harbor Town, in downtown Memphis, they moved to Kirby Pines in 2011. Dr. Cooke is survived by their children: Susan, C. Robert Jr. (Rob), John, and Michael, of Brooklyn, Medfield, MA, Marshfield, MA, and Nashville, respectively; and four grandchildren, Joe and Jeanne Cooke and Nick and Jared Foretek.

His family mourns his death and celebrates his life as a loving husband, a patient and inspiring father and grandfather, a proud Mountaineer, and a lifelong Democrat. He was man of regular habits (he ate half a tuna sandwich and an apple every day for lunch) who was also a devoted fan of the Baltimore Colts (and later the Baltimore Ravens), a enthusiastic watcher of CNN, and an aficionado of single malt Scotch, steamed hard-shelled Chesapeake Bay crabs, Memphis barbecue, and Claeys Horehound candies.

A Memorial service will be held in Memphis, at 10 a.m. on April 26, in the chapel at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 1030 Jefferson Avenue, 2nd floor, followed by a reception at 11 a.m. in the nephrology conference room (G4111). A private gravesite rite and committal service will take place later at High Lawn Memorial Park, in Oak Hill, WV.
Published in The Commercial Appeal on Apr. 25, 2017
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