John Geyer "Jack" Cook, Jr.
John Geyer “Jack” Cook, Jr., 88, formerly of Lake Cypress Springs, TX and recently of Austin, passed away peacefully on October 17 with his wife, Betsy, holding his hand.
Jack was born in New Brighton, PA on June 2, 1931 to John Geyer Cook, a pharmacist in whose store Jack had his first job as a soda jerk, and Beulah Veiock Cook, an educator. He graduated from Rochester High School in 1948 and Carnegie Institute of Technology with a BS in Civil Engineering in 1952. After working as Project Engineer for Gulf Research and Development post-graduation, Jack accepted a position with Keystone Fabricating Company, a structural steel manufacturing firm, in 1957. Among the projects he was involved with was the design of the concrete formwork for Dulles International Airport, Eero Saarinen’s structurally innovative masterpiece, completed in 1962. Jack eventually moved into more administrative positions in the construction industry and in the 1970s, while Vice-President of Campbell-Ellsworth, Inc., oversaw construction of an impressive portfolio of commercial, industrial, and institutional projects. The stress of one project, Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, known within the family as “Holy Fright” because Pittsburgh’s challenging weather made the pouring of the Brutalist building’s concrete barrel vaults a constant contest, would cause Jack to lose a small patch of hair from the back of his head. It grew back gray, a white dot in his otherwise thick brown hair.
Jack and his wife Betsy were introduced by mutual friends at The Pleasure Bar in 1955. Betsy later recalled that it was his shoes that first caught her eye: brown, twotoned, with laces, and “very nicely polished.” They were married within the year and, two weeks after his passing, would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary. His children grew up believing there was nothing their father couldn’t do. Once, on a family fishing vacation to Canada, after a day spent catching pike and picking blueberries on a small island in the Georgian Bay, an unexpected storm blew in causing waves so extreme the bottom of the bay could be seen through the troughs. The boat was powered only by a small outboard motor but, navigating the swells obliquely, Jack returned them safely to shore where the owners of the fishing camp stood nervously waiting on the dock. It was as though he’d trained for such an emergency -- although it’s more likely it was knowledge gathered from the spy novels he loved to read. Whether masterpieces of the genre or the page-turners he jokingly referred to as “airplane novels,” he was rarely without one by his side.
Jack accepted a position as Director of Construction with Steak and Ale Restaurant Corp. in 1973 during the company’s initial period of widespread and rapid expansion, and the family relocated to Dallas, TX. Restaurant work defined much of his later career. Following retirement from S&A as Vice President in 1988, he and Betsy moved to New Orleans to work with Al Copeland Enterprises, where his primary responsibility was the installation of Popeye’s Famous Fried Chicken franchises at US armed forces bases in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea, Germany, Manila, Okinawa, and England. Independent consulting work took them, briefly, to Las Vegas before returning to Texas in 1995 where Jack continued to consult for a variety of firms until a few years before his death.
Jack made things. He made snowmen and hope chests, step stools, and writing boxes; the Shakers, with their clean lines and no-nonsense approach to design, were an inspiration. He built boats and a treehouse; he built an A-frame cabin with friends that would become the backdrop for family memories and the stage for many youthful misdeeds. He composed photographs; he constructed words. When his children asked what he wanted for Christmas each year, the answer was always the same: a “silver schnitzel and a golden schnitzy-wah spitz-doodle.” Every family home was remodeled and expanded. When he and Betsy purchased a lot on Lake Cypress Springs in Texas in the early ‘80s, he designed a simple, but elegant, weekend retreat there; when they later retired to the lake full-time, he designed the home where they would live for almost 25 years, on the same cove, a stone’s throw from the first. In nearby Mt. Vernon, he and Betsy worked for years to help refurbish the building that became home to the non-profit Franklin County Arts Alliance. It’s no wonder that his three children would all pursue careers somehow related to the design and construction of the built environment.
Jack believed profoundly in the power of the human intellect, but seldom offered advice or criticism. His opinions were strongly held, but he rarely voiced them with the intent to persuade; it was left to the individual to make decisions and draw conclusions. He could hold his own on virtually any topic, and he had an astonishing capacity for recall: statistics, details, trivia. He led by example. Those who worked with him repeatedly referred to him as a mentor, not a boss. In the last ten years of his life, when crippling chronic pain had finally begun to erode his good nature, it never threatened his big heart. He casts a long shadow
He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Elizabeth “Betsy” Waiteck Cook, daughter Judith and her husband David Birdsong of Austin; sons John Michael of Rockwall, TX and James T. and his wife, Lynne of Dallas; granddaughters Elizabeth Birdsong of Austin and Annie Cook of Virginia Beach, VA; and sisters Nancy Green and Connie Cook of Pittsburgh. At Jack’s request, there will be no memorial service. The family asks that in lieu of flowers contributions be made in Jack’s memory to the Franklin County Arts Alliance, PO Box 1276, Mt. Vernon, TX, 75457."