Col. Bob Cook, community leader and Salisbury icon, dies at age 96

By Liz Holland
Posted 7/3/22

Col. Bob Cook, the founding Executive Director of the Greater Salisbury Committee who also was involved in the founding of numerous other community organizations, died early Sunday. He was …

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Col. Bob Cook, community leader and Salisbury icon, dies at age 96

Posted

Col. Bob Cook, the founding Executive Director of the Greater Salisbury Committee who also was involved in the founding of numerous other community organizations, died early Sunday. He was 96.

Cook, along with the late poultry company head Frank Perdue, Piedmont Airlines founder Richard Henson and former Salisbury Mayor Frank Morris, are considered some of the most significant people in Salisbury in the last 50 years, said Mike Dunn, the current President and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee.

“They changed the trajectory of the community,” he said.

Cook came to Salisbury in 1967 from the University of Delaware where he taught economics and authored numerous studies and articles on economic development, urban challenges and the economics of transportation. He was recruited by Perdue and Henson who heard him speak and thought he would be the ideal person to lead the fledgling committee.

“They sold him on the concept and brought him here,” Dunn said.

During his 25 years with the Greater Salisbury Committee, Cook helped facilitate the founding of a number of major community organizations including Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, Delmarva Water Transport Committee, Private Industry Council of Maryland’s Twelve Rural Counties, Chesapeake Country Economic Development Corp., Salisbury Neighborhood Housing, Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore and Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore.

He also helped establish Wor-Wic Community College and the Salisbury YMCA.

“Those are big things – community-changing things,” Dunn said. “He was a visionary, he was a leader and he literally got things done. He was a powerhouse.” 

In 1970, the Greater Salisbury Committee membership endorsed the creation of a community college for the Lower Shore. Morris, who had been Salisbury’s mayor from 1962 to 1966, teamed up with Cook to make presentations to nearly every community and civic organization in the four counties over the next few years. After much lobbying and negotiating, Wicomico and Worcester supported the college and voted it into existence in 1975, said Wor-Wic President Ray Hoy.

“Five years of unfaltering determination and commitment,” Hoy said. “Everyone who knows Bob, knows that about him. He had passion!  And was like a dog on a bone; a bulldog at that. Pushing and prodding, continually, until his objective was achieved.”

Cook served as a member of Wor-Wic’s Board of Trustees from 1992 through 1996, helping raise almost $1 million in the first year alone. 

After leaving the board in 1996, he was hired by former President Arnold Maner as Special Assistant to the President for Development. In that role, he raised $1.3 million in pledges and gifts to grow the college’s technology endowment, Hoy said.

“He has served on every fundraising campaign at Wor-Wic since then until the most recent when his health began to falter,” Hoy said. 

Wicomico County Council President John Cannon said he was able to visit with Cook a few times toward the end of his life, and in spite of his declining health, he remained interested in what was happening in the community.

“He never allowed his age to compromise his professionalism,” he said. “He still enjoyed engaging in conversation.”

Cannon said he admired Cook for his optimistic outlook, professionalism, discipline and empathy.

“I was just enamored with the guy,” he said.

Cook also served as a trustee and president of the Richard A. Henson Foundation and a board member of the Hudson Health Services, the Ward Foundation, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the YMCA of the Chesapeake and the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Vestry.

Cook also was involved in resurrecting the flagging YMCA and continued to volunteer with the YMCA of the Chesapeake during his retirement. The YMCA honored Cook for his leadership in the community by naming Camp Cook in his honor.

He was the winner of The Salisbury Award in 2016 and was given the Outstanding Eagle Scout Award by the Del-Mar-Va Council of Boy Scouts.

Born in Pittsburgh, Cook grew up in Kane, Pa., where he graduated from high school. He was active in Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout in 1943.

At age 17, he joined the Merchant Marines, serving as an ordinary seaman, returning to graduate with his high school class. He enlisted in the fall of 1943 in the Army Air Corps. After a year's delay in flight training, he resigned from that program and applied for and was accepted into the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Infantry at the age of 19, he served at the end of World War II, as a company commander and an aide-de-camp in Germany.  Cook continued his service in Europe and Korea. Cook served as a brigade commander in the Maryland Defense Force and he retired as a colonel.

He graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and did graduate work at the University of Tennessee, becoming an economist.

Cook’s wife, Janice, died in 2009. He is survived by his four children, Robyn Cook Butler, Diane Cook Jennings, Mark A. Cook and David Mills Cook, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The family were longtime Camden Avenue residents.