“He was a Tough Cookie.
– Cindy Burnham
The NPPA has lost another legacy member. After a few months of declining health, Ken Cooke died at home in the early morning of October 29, 2020. A mentor and great friend to numerous photographers, Ken was an NPPA member since 1959. He was 88.
“I will be forever grateful to him,” Cindy Burnham, a career-long friend, wrote on Facebook. “When a young woman photographer needed a break in a male-dominated profession, he gave it to her. Saw her potential. Praised her. Corrected her, too. All with the aim of making her (me) better at my craft.” Accompanying Cindy’s post is a photograph of her and Ken early in her career.
The accolades on social media go on forever. The posted pictures are beautiful memories of a life well-lived and a colleague well-loved and respected.
In February 2014, News Photographer magazine wrote about Ken’s hospitalization with a life-threatening illness. The photojournalism community acted quickly to send him notes of support and good wishes.
"Ken did tremendous photography, but the greatest thing he did was to develop and support photographers like Cindy Burnham, Mary Calvert, and Burk Uzzle," Michael Edrington said in the 2014 story.
After serving with the Army in Korea, Ken was a staff photographer and director of photography at the Raleigh Times and Observer for 17 years before joining The Fayetteville Observer staff. He retired from the Fayetteville newspaper in 1994. After retirement, he and his wife, Catherine Coble Cooke, moved to Washington, D.C., then to California, and returned to North Carolina in 2011.
NPPA is grateful for Ken’s unflinching dedication over the years. He served as NPPA president in 1978 and vice president in 1977 and was named NPPA's military liaison in 1992.
Ken was awarded NPPA's highest honors: Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award 1982; Samuel Mellor Award 1975; Joe Costa Award 1981; President’s Award in 1978 and 1980. For his financial support of the National Press Photographers Foundation, Ken received the NPPF Medal.
“Ken Cooke was so helpful when I was president -- he was willing to get things done… as he did during his entire life,” Tom Hardin, past NPPA president, wrote to News Photographer in an email. “A real doer, every day, every week and for years. People were his catalyst.”
Mary F. Calvert wrote on her Facebook page: “Today we lost a great man. Ken Cooke was my boss when I was the photo intern at the Fayetteville Observer/Times in the summer of 1987. He hired me sight unseen after I sent him my (weak) portfolio. Ken Kobre, who was my professor at San Francisco State University, basically talked him into hiring me for the summer.
“On the first day of work, he took me around the building and introduced me to everyone on the staff. Even the ladies in the back by the loading dock who stuffed the circulars into the paper before it went out for delivery. It was a great summer. As a boss Ken was encouraging and kept me working hard, all the while teaching me how to be prepared to make good pictures and conduct myself like a professional. The rest of the photo staff was fantastic and welcomed me. Often, at the end of the day, he'd call me in his office and say with that drawl of his ‘why don't you c'mon out to the house for dinner?’ That summer, I spent a lot of time with Ken and the love of his life Catherine. He was kind and so funny. And his stories...I never got tired of hearing them.
“This man not only took a chance on me and gave me my start in journalism, he became a lifelong friend. When my dad died, he was there for me and a few years later gave me away at my wedding to Joe. Ken has touched the lives of so many people, so many photographers.”