Lawrence H. Cooke
By JUDITH S.
York City early this morning, l thought of the many, many times
I have traveled these familiar roads coming home to Monticello-coming
home from college and law school, coming home to introduce Stephen,
my husband, to my mother and father, coming home to celebrate the
centennial of my high school, the retirement of our fabulous Chief
Judge, the naming of the Lawrence H. Cooke Sullivan County Courthouse,
and on and on. Invariably in coming home there has been a sense
of excitement, anticipation, joy. Always my heart beat just a little
faster as we approached Sullivan County, and Monticello, and Broadway,
and encountered the wonderful people, lifetime friends, here in
Today, of course,
the emotions are very different as my lifetime friends gather to
bid farewell to a lifetime hero, Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke,
the Chief, or-as he was widely known-just plain "Larry." As we each
privately struggle with our own sweet memories and sense of loss,
what comes first to mind is to convey profound sympathies to the
people who were nearest and dearest to him, to his children Edward,
George and Lauren and their spouses, to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren-every
one of them a source of pride for him-and of course to Alice, his
"saintly wife" (those are his words, not mine, but I concur fully
in the sentiment). Theirs was an incredible love story of more than
61 years. You just can't speak of Larry without immediately thinking
of that beautiful, gentle lady who was his strength and his anchor.
few days since his passing, we have been challenged to sum up his
greatest achievements, his lasting contributions, the legacy of
the rich and productive life of Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke.
My own instincts
took me immediately to the record books, the vital statistics-that's
a lawyerly thing to do-beginning with his election as Town Supervisor,
then a distinguished trial and appellate judge, ultimately Judge
and Chief Judge of the state's highest court, Chief Judge of the
entire New York State court system, head of the National Center
for State Courts and nationwide Conference of Chief Justices. He
served this state brilliantly to the very last minute permitted
by law, then continued to contribute his prodigious talents as counselor,
law professor and Judicial Screening Committee Chair. The vital
statistics alone bespeak a life of public service, of rectitude
and high integrity, a life dedicated to the law and the principle
of justice for all.
question that he lived out his father's advice to the letter: "If
in doubt, take the high road?" Do the right thing.
You know, too,
from a moment's glance at the record books, that this was a person
of boundless energy and capacity. "Waste not, want not." Again,
one of his life principles; and again, he was true to it. His legendary
workday began at 4:00 a.m.-I am told. (I have to admit that I have
this only on secondhand authority.)
that change, improvement, betterment was possible-whether of the
individual, or the court system or society at large-and he committed
himself with every fiber of his being to actually making things
better. As the chief executive officer of the court system, he instituted
dozens of bold reforms, from greater openness and efficiency, to
community dispute resolution centers, to upgraded facilities, to
measures assuring equal opportunity. He was far ahead of his time
in actively supporting and advancing women and minorities in the
courts-and as a personal beneficiary of those efforts I am most
grateful to him.
The books show
us, too, that as a Judge Lawrence Cooke's commitment to fairness
and justice was the core of his jurisprudence, whether constitutional
rights, or protection of free speech, or protection against discrimination
and arbitrary government action. As Chief Judge, he helped to place
the Court of Appeals, as well as our court system generally, at
the very apex of state judiciaries.
Truly an exemplary
life. A life well lived.
But would any
of us who lived and worked alongside Larry sum up his greatest achievements,
his legacy, simply from the record books and vital statistics? I
think not. Surely he would not have measured the significance of
his life that way. To speak only from the cold records is to ignore
his amazing warmth, his through-and-through genuineness, humility
and sincerity, the marvelous down-to-earth quality of his personality.
His commitment to individual justice was not abstract or bookish,
and it was not confined to the courts. At the center of all the
things he did, whether professional or personal, was the simple
fact that he liked, and believed in, and cared about, people. People
were important to him.
So many of
us here have stories of his inexhaustible kindness and sensitivity,
how he touched our lives in some uniquely meaningful way, with a
birthday card, a holiday greeting, a telephone call, a note or postcard,
an appointment to a committee, a chat at the local diner over a
piece of pie, an evening with his cherished fellow volunteer firemen.
He wasn't just born with the love of his community, he earned it
every single day.
years ago, told me one of my favorite stories typifying Larry. It
was about Barney and Ethel, who operated the service station in
Accord, where Larry often stopped for gas and ice cream on the trip
between Albany and Monticello. Even as his license plate moved up
from County Court to Supreme Court, to Court of Appeals Number One,
to Barney and Ethel he was always known as "Larry." The Town Court
Justice, by contrast, they called "Judge Lipton." I think Tony Kane
hit it right on the nose when he said, "His mission was to treat
everyone equally." However high he rose in public life, however
powerful he became, however long the list of his accomplishments,
Larry treated everyone, everyone, with kindness and respect. The
fact is, he changed a lot of things, but some things never changed.
His hat size never changed. His concern for people never changed,
and he never deviated from his own fundamental values. Always he
took the high road.
born and raised in Monticello, I cannot remember a day in my own
life when I did not know, and greatly admire, Larry, from the time
he and Alice shopped in our store-they were adored by my parents-to
the miraculous day I was appointed a Judge of the Court of Appeals
and served on the Court with him-imagine, two citizens of Monticello
on the Court at the same time-to our last visit not long ago. As
the Court's Junior Judge, I had the privilege of not only watching
and learning from a master but also regularly receiving news from
home, like an illness in the Cooper family or a fire at Cohen's
Hardware. I cannot begin to calculate, or acknowledge, the impact
of this great man on my own life. I am confident that many others
feel the same about his impact on their lives. And isn't that, in
the end, the most significant contribution any of us can hope to
make, the most lasting legacy of all?
a bit at the outset when I said that always before today I felt
a sense of joy coming home. Truth to tell, my last trip home was
to visit Larry at the hospital and, while we were happy to see one
another, joy was not exactly the predominant emotion of the day.
Oh, there were jokes and chuckles-Larry's twinkling wit, his great
sense of humor, his concern for his visitor never left him. But
it was clear that he was debilitated and in pain. Above all, he
simply, desperately wanted to go home. Not long after, I learned
that he had indeed gone home, that he had passed peacefully just
as he wished, at home, in the bosom of his loving family.
I agree with
George Cooke's words quoted in the newspaper the other day. "You
think you prepare for things like this-surely we've anticipated
this day for some time now-and still it is so hard." Hard for his
wonderful family, and hard for all of us. Hard to stop thinking
about the remarkable person who is no longer with us-the trademark
hat, the one-of-a-kind smile, the humor, the energy, the caring,
the courage. Hard to stop thinking about the lessons exemplified
by his life, lessons that will forever be with us: to apply your
talents to the fullest to help others; treat all people equally,
with kindness, dignity and respect; walk the high road, however
difficult that may at times be; stand up for what you believe is
right and fair; above all, be true to yourself.
A life of love
and family. Of kindness and goodness to other people. Of accomplishment
and contribution to society. A life well lived. Truly, a life well
S. Kaye is Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.]