Kenneth "Ken" Cooke
RALEIGH — Longtime newspaper photographer Kenneth "Ken" Cooke, who was unofficial godfather, mentor and friend to many notable news photographers and photojournalists, died at home October 29, 2020 after several months of declining health. Mr. Cooke was a staff photographer at the News & Observer from 1956 until 1973, then head of the photography department at The Fayetteville Observer from 1973 to 1994 and former president of the National Press Photographers Association. He was 88.
Mr. Cooke was born February 18, 1932, and raised in Providence, RI, by his mother and step-father, the late Gladys and Lawrence Anderson. He is survived by his wife, Catherine Coble Cooke, of Raleigh, NC; granddaughter, Evening Star Sciarabba, of Santa Fe, NM; and step-sister, Judith Elliott (Richard), of Coventry, RI.
After serving as an Army medic in the Korean War, Mr. Cooke attended the New York Institute of Photography. He was fresh out of school when The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, hired him in 1956. On his first assignment he covered the UNC-Duke football game. One of the things he loved most about his job was that every assignment was different with new places, new people and a new experience. He covered sports, politics and features stories as well as breaking news stories that were synchronous with an era of change: from a violent textile strike in Henderson to antiwar and civil rights protests in Chapel Hill.
Mr. Cooke moved to Fayetteville in 1973 to head up the photography department for the competing newspapers, The Fayetteville Observer and the newly established morning newspaper, The Fayetteville Times. The job called for exquisite diplomacy in balancing the demands of competing newspapers under the same roof. Mr. Cooke went on to lead the photography staff to a long string of awards, contributing to award-winning features and news stories at both newspapers.
Mr. Cooke is remembered not only for his photography skills but also as a storyteller. One of his favorite stories involved a visit by former President Harry Truman and former First Lady Bess Truman to Raleigh. Also traveling with the former president was his son-in-law, Clifton Daniel, a native North Carolinian married to Truman's daughter Margaret. When traveling with the president, Mr. Daniel, who was managing editor at the New York Times, often carried a camera. In a moment of confusion as the crowd pressed in to see President Truman, the Secret Service hustled Mr. Cooke, who bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Daniel, into the president's limousine. Mr. Cooke quickly took advantage of the opportunity and snapped a shot of Truman and his wife Bess. It was the kind of hutzpah that was a trademark throughout Mr. Cooke's career.
During his years at the combined Fayetteville Observer-Times, Mr. Cooke was elected president of National Press Photographer Association (1978-79) and received the organization's highest awards for his years of service to photojournalism. Mr. Cooke received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Gov. James B. Hunt in 1981 and served as co-director for the DoD Worldwide Military Photography Workshop.
After retiring from the Fayetteville newspaper, Mr. Cooke worked as photo advisor for the Army's Combat Camera unit in Fort Meade, MD, and in 1992 he co-curated a photographic exhibit on Desert Storm for the Smithsonian Institution at the Museum of American History. Mr. Cooke joined freelance photographer Gary Kieffer to document the globe-spanning maiden voyage of the US Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in 1998.
In retirement, Mr. Cooke and his wife Catherine lived in Palm Desert, CA, before moving back to Raleigh, NC.
No funeral services are planned. A celebration of Mr. Cooke's life will be scheduled for a future date.
Published in Fayetteville Observer from Oct. 29 to Oct. 30, 2020.