Call For Well Wishes: Mentor & Teacher Ken Cooke Seriously Ill

File photograph of photojournalist Ken Cooke
File photograph of photojournalist Ken Cooke

By Donald R. Winslow

DURHAM, NC (February 7, 2014) – The friends of photojournalist and mentor Ken Cooke are asking for those who know and admire him to act quickly to send notes of support, fond memories, and good wishes to the former NPPA president and DoD Worldwide Military Photography Workshop co-director.

Cooke, 81, has been hospitalized with a life threatening illness at Duke University Medical Center. Fayetteville Observer photojournalist Cindy Burnham said that plans call for Cooke to be moved to his home in Raleigh, possibly later today or within the next few days. Mary F. Calvert, another photographer who credits Cooke with much of her successful career, said doctors are hopeful that he can build up some strength in the coming days in order to be able to begin cancer treatments. The retired photojournalist's 82nd birthday is coming up on February 18. 

Photojournalist Michael Edrington, the director of the Defense Imagery Management Operations Center, told News Photographer magazine today that Cooke, a mentor to scores of former and current military photographers and workshop participants, was very recently diagnosed with a rapidly-progressing cancer. 

While Cooke has said that he doesn't want to see friends or visitors or take telephone calls right now, Edrington said that Cooke's friends and family would like to compile a collection of letters, notes, photographs and memorabilia into a scrapbook to present to him just as quickly as possible.

"Ken did tremendous photography, but the greatest thing he did was to create photographers like Cindy Burnham, Mary Calvert, and Burk Uzzle," Edrington said today. 

Edrington counts himself among those whose careers were so positively impacted by Cooke's leadership, friendship, and teaching in workshops and one-on-one relationships. To say thank you and to let Cooke know how much his friends and former students appreciate him, Edrington has put out a call to spread the word and gather as many notes and messages as possible to get to their mentor rapidly.

Susan Delmonico has volunteered to receive the notes, photographs, and memorabilia and to assemble them into a book, Edrington said, but he emphasizes that people need to act soon. Notes and photographs and such should be mailed to Delmonico at 13 Furches Street, Raleigh, NC, 27607. 

Delmonico and Cooke's wife, Catherine, will make sure Cooke receives the scrapbook as soon as possible. 

After serving in the Army and in Korea, Cooke was a staff photographer and photography director in Raleigh Times and Observer for 17 years before joining the staff The Fayetteville Observer. He retired from the Fayetteville newspaper in 1994. After retirement he and his wife moved to Washington, DC, then to California, and just three years ago they returned back to North Carolina.

Cooke was NPPA's president in 1978 and vice president in 1977. He was appointed as NPPA's military liaison in 1992, and was presented with NPPA's highest honor, the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, in 1982. NPPA also honored Cooke during his career with the Samuel Mellor Award in 1975 and the President's Award in 1981.

"Ken Cooke was my partner in directing the DoD Worldwide Military Photography Workshop for more than ten years," NPPA Sprague Award-winner Kenneth Hackman said today. "He dedicated his life to helping young photographers, both military and civilian. He definitely is 'one of a kind,' and that kind is a wonderful friend, mentor, and confidant." 

Below: Ken Cooke with Bernie Boston (on left) and Ernie Cox in Virginia, circa 2000.