A great loss to our community

Gary P. Cooper, past president of Greenbrier River Watershed Association, dies March 10.

August 30, 1933 – March 10, 2017

Gary P. Cooper, 1965 Desolation Valley, California. Photo Audrey Cooper

Born in York, Ala., to James Pettus and Mabel Clair Cooper (née Bennett), Gary was the elder brother to Tony and James Cooper (of Huntsville and Mobile, Ala., respectively).

Having served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean-American War, he was thankful to the GI Bill for making it possible to go to college. Attending the University of Alabama while it was a racially segregated institution, Gary determined to work for racial and social justice in his life and in his professional callings.

After earning a Ph.D. in Neurophysiology at Tulane University, he and his first wife, Jane Ellen Cooper (née Crowe), moved to San Francisco, Calif., where he worked at the U.S. Naval Research laboratory conducting neurotoxicology research.

In 1964, his wife gave birth to son Keith Brian Cooper. In June 1966, they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, for Gary to take a position as a professor of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and the next month, his wife gave birth to daughter Audrey Clare Cooper. He spent his career at UC studying the effects of heavy metals on the nervous system, particularly for fresh waterway ecosystems.

An avid limbo dancer and conga player through his 40s, in 1978 he met his beloved second wife, Marilyn K. Cooper (née Fields), an accomplished painter, arts advocate, and business-woman from Charleston, W.Va., and embraced her two sons, Brian and Barry Fields, as his own. Having introduced Gary to her ancestral home some years before, Gary took early retirement in 1991 so that he and Marilyn could move to Lewisburg, W.Va., to begin a new chapter of their life.

Gary studied the natural history of the region intensively, hiking favorite spots of Dolly Sods and all over Greenbrier County, the highlands of West Virginia and beyond – including the North American north and southwest and several South American countries, spending extensive time in Chile and Venezuela, photographing wildflowers, his own roses, Marilyn’s many gardens, horses in the mist, waterfalls and streams, glaciers and the Amazon River, and everyday people doing everyday things. On exhibition at the Cooper Gallery of Art, Gary’s photography also accompanied the essays he wrote on environmental issues for Blue Ridge Country, Greenbrier Quarterly, Mid Atlantic, and the West Virginia Quarterly. His work is featured in the collections at the Charleston, West Virginia, Federal Rotunda, Tamarack Art Center, and the West Virginia Osteopathic School, among other venues. Gary also served as the unofficial resident photographer for the Greenbrier Valley Theater for more than 15 years, striving to capture the living motion and emotion of actors and dancers. Possessing a sharp intellect and dry wit, Gary encouraged others to pursue their own curiosity, question received explanations, and to appreciate and champion the natural diversity of the planet. He was past president of the Greenbrier River Watershed Association, contributed to the Nature Conservancy Summer Science programming and publications, and was a longtime supporter of the Sierra Club and the Humanist Association.

Gary is survived by his wife, Marilyn, their four children and their families, and cherished grandchildren Jessica Cooper, Brendon Fields, Kayla Fields and Casey Goddard. He is also survived by his brothers, their wives and children, by his father’s younger sister, Helen Chesser (of Lewisburg), and, by countless friends and community members who loved him.

A service will also be held in the spring; date is unknown.

Wallace & Wallace Funeral Home in Lewisburg is in charge of arrangements. Please send online condolences by visiting www.WallaceandWallaceFH.com.

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