Joseph Walter Cook, Jr., 71, of Pensacola, Florida passed away on Saturday, June 20, 2020.
Born in Philadelphia on November 25, 1948, Joseph Cook spent his early childhood in the City of Brotherly Love. At an early age, Joe reportedly had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow with newspaper stuffed in his shoes for warmth. It’s hard to say if this experience contributed to one of his two lifelong passions, but it should be noted that Joe became a sailor, not a downhill skier. At the ripe old age of 11, Joe felt the call of the sea and began the construction of what would become the first of many sailboats built by his hands. His mother, overcome with the news of his newfound passion, joyously exclaimed “get out of my kitchen...there’s probably some stuff you can use down at the surplus army/navy store...use it somewhere else...” Luckily, his passion for sailing was matched by an almost super natural talent for woodworking. Using his native carpentry skills and surplus canvas, a spirited and capable vessel was born. Borrowing a neighbor’s wagon and enlisting some friends' help, the boat was towed down to the Delaware River on a sunny day in March, and Joe set forth on the journey of a lifelong love of sailing, one he would share and instill in so many others. A natural born sailor, I’m sure he beat Washington’s time on his first Delaware River crossing that cool March afternoon.
Whether it was his passion for the sea or his spirit for service to others, a career in the USN was soon to follow. After graduating from Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, he joined the Navy and upon graduation was selected as Honor man of his company in the navy “Cook was selected Honorman of his company by his company commander and fellow recruits on the basis of his high initiative, outstanding military bearing, leadership ability, pride in the Navy, adaptability to military training and because he displayed a high example to his shipmates.” He went on to serve with distinction at every level, including a tour in Vietnam.
It was also during this time Joe was to discover his number one lifelong passion, his wife Rose. He would pursue this passion for the rest of his days, raising a son and daughter together. All who knew Joe, knew him as “Joe and Rose”, and the two were rarely apart. When Joe was elected Commodore of Grand Lagoon Yacht Club, Rose became “Momma-dore”. A carpenter’s spirit to the end, Joe never stopped building his love for Rose, his children, and grandchildren.
After leaving the Navy in 1970, Joe would go on to use and teach his considerable carpentry and building skills. Long before the days of HGTV, Joe could be found consulting, designing, and building. Along the way, he received his degree from Temple University, Magna Cum Laude of course because he never built anything halfway. While we can’t say with certainty that everything he did was open concept and white cabinets, it can be said that when it came to carpentry and architectural engineering, Joe Cook had few peers. His ability to create with his own hands was a talent too rare to hide, and soon he was teaching vocational education. Joe’s eye for design would lead to many consulting jobs for various bathroom and kitchen companies. If HGTV had been a thing, Joe would have had a show, although we suspect he might have questioned some of the buyer’s odd requests. Such that it was, he served as an instructor and Site Coordinator for the National Association of Home Builders. Even as good as Joe was with his hands, he was even better at inspiring others to use their own. He would finish his career as a Program Manager with Americorp and eventually the Volunteer Coordinator for the VA. With Joe leading by example, his team’s helped build communities all over the country and recover from disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Upon retiring from a life of service and helping others find the strength in their own hands, Joe and Rose moved to Pensacola. Here, Joe continued to pursue his two passions, sailing and his wife Rose. Even though he had officially retired from a life of service, he never stopped volunteering and helping out those around him. Long standing member of Grand Lagoon Yacht club, he served as the Fleet Captain and as Commodore. It might be said that at least half the screws holding the dock and buildings together came from his hands. Many a person learned to sail from Joe’s instruction on a day out sailing Big Lagoon in his schooner, Spirit. Spirit was a graceful sight on Big Lagoon, and always one to watch. Joe’s ability to handle a large boat as if it were a row boat was legendary. If he had been piloting the Titanic, they would not have hit the iceberg. He probably would have circled it so folks could get pictures, then headed on. One busy summer weekend, a sailboat was seen entering the crowded anchorage at Fort Pickens. It was a typical holiday weekend, with boats anchored so close that one could almost walk across the anchorage and not get wet. Upon seeing a sailboat approach under sail, growing concern turned to admiration as we watched Joe deftly tack Spirit through the anchorage and back...under sail...single handed...while waving and smiling...passing near enough to say hello. We suspect that he did the same thing on the Delaware River those many years ago.
Joe may have sailed past us for the moment and waved farewell, but we have no doubt that he will sail by us again soon.
A celebration of life will be scheduled at a later date.
“Don't be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah