Monday, August 31, 2020

John P. Cooke: 
Outspoken Olympian
John Cooke accomplished at least two things that no other Ridgefielder has: He won a gold medal in the Olympics and he was the only member of a third-party ever elected to local public office, at least in the 20th Century.
Cooke also led the committee that oversaw the construction and fine-tuning of the Ridgefield High School on North Salem Road.
John Patrick Cooke was born in Ansonia in 1937, starred at high school football, and entered Yale University where he expected to continue to play football. As part of efforts for footballers to stay in shape over the winter, he rowed in the tanks at the university’s gymnasium. 
He fell in love with rowing. “I’m a short stocky fellow, not usually the type that rows,” he admitted in an 2001 interview.
Just 20 months later, he was rowing in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne on what has been described as “the most successful U.S. rowing team ever to compete in the Olympics.” The team won two gold medals, three silver medals and a bronze.
Torrey Cooke, his wife, recalled meeting him for the first time at a wedding in Philadelphia. Though he was an Olympics medalist — and, later events would show, was interested in making an impression on her — he didn’t even mention the Olympics.
“Never said a word — he never bragged about it,”  she told The Press’s Macklin Reid. “Somebody else said, ‘Do you know that guy has an Olympic gold medal?’” 
He rowed in an eight-man shell. “He was the number three man, and that’s usually the steam engine,” Mrs. Cooke said. “He was a powerhouse. He was a terribly strong young man.”
He went on to coach at Yale and stayed active in rowing throughout his life, refereeing, judging, and being involved in various rowing associations. He was a referee for the Head of the Charles race in Boston for 20 years, and officiated at many other competitions in the eastern United States.
In 2001 he earned the United States Rowing Association’s Jack Kelly Award for “superior achievements in rowing, service to amateur athletics, and success in their chosen profession, thereby serving as an inspiration to American rowers.”
As a sign of his love of the sport, Cooke hung a rowing shell — more than 20 feet long — from his living room ceiling.
After graduating from Yale in 1959  with a bachelor’s degree in industrial
administration, Cooke enlisted in the Marine Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant  in 1960. Two years later, he planned the loading and initial combat array for a secret mission — the 1962 invasion of Thailand — that was one of the early involvements of U.S. troops in what became the Vietnam War.
Later on,  he helped found the detachment of the Marine Corps League in Ridgefield.
During a 28-year career with Emery Air Freight, he oversaw the construction of buildings all over the world, including Emery’s “hub” in Dayton, Ohio, a project that occupied him for seven years.
His expertise in construction proved useful to Ridgefield  in 1967 when he became chairman of the Ridgefield High School Building Committee.
“We completed the new high school on time and under budget, the only school in Ridgefield that was under budget,” he said. 
A resident since 1965, Cooke had been outspoken on many issues over the years. He was a pioneer member of the Independent Party and in 1993, was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals on the Independent ticket — and continued to serve on the board until a year before his death. 
In 1995, he ran for first selectman as an Independent because “I’ve become disenchanted and upset, like many other people, with the self-appointed, elitist group which runs the town.” Though he came in third behind Sue Manning and Barbara Manners, he collected a respectable 1,578 votes. 
He died of cancer in 2005.
John Cooke’s causes over the years included outspoken opposition to a variety of government endeavors including the Super 7 expressway,  the building of an elaborate visitor’s center at the Weir Farm National Historic Site, and what he felt in later life had become excessive school construction in town.
“It never scared him to get up and say his piece at a town meeting,” Torrey Cooke said. “He said, ‘You know, when you believe in what you’re talking about, it doesn’t bother you.’ He was encouraging to me, always, to be able to do that.”
Winifred Carriere:
Quotable on Cats
When it came to cats, Winifred Carriere was quite quotable. Just Google her name and you’ll find scores of websites recalling her observations. Probably her most repeated pronouncement is: “Cats always know whether people like or dislike them. They do not always care enough to do anything about it.”
Carriere loved cats, enough to write a book, Cats, 24 Hours A Day, published in 1967 and again in 1975. “There is no doubt that Winifred Carriere is ‘possessed’ by her cats,” said Kirkus Reviews,  “and for 20 years she has been happily ‘without a catless moment.’”
However, her interests extended beyond the feline to the floral.
Winifred Osborn Carriere was born in Ridgefield on April 20, 1912,  the daughter of Richard C. Osborn and Beulah Sanford. Her father, who worked for the family-owned lumber yard that is now Ridgefield Supply, died when she was seven  Her mother went off to Manhattan to become a nurse, married one of her Columbia University professors named Harry Clinton France,  and eventually became a leading authority on child care. She wrote articles for more than 100 magazines, was editorial director of American Baby magazine, appeared often on TV, and wrote two books, How to Have a Happy Child (1952) and How to Have a Happy, Healthy Baby (1964).
 Young Winifred stayed in Ridgefield with her great-aunts, Annie Tallman Osborn and Carolyn Winifred Osborn, at the Osborn homestead at Main and Prospect Streets.
 She graduated from Syracuse University, where she met and married Albert Carriere, an aspiring playwright and actor. They had a daughter and were later divorced.
After the divorce she moved to New York City, and began a career in editing. She worked

at Prentice Hall, McGraw-Hill and the Institute of Radio Engineers before turning to magazines. For many years she published and edited Professional Florist Magazine, a trade magazine. 
Her interest in flowers led her to join with Vernon Johnson in 1964 in writing An Easy Guide to Artificial Light Gardening for Pleasure and Profit. A New York Times reviewer with a sense of the pun said the book “provides illuminating answers to questions about equipment, construction and care of light-gardens.” 
She retired to a house on Wooster Street in the 1960s and 1970s,  working for a while as office manager for Buck Argenio’s Buck Realty. She died in an assisted care home in Sharon in 2002 at the age of 90.
While flowers were her profession for many years, it is cats that keep Win Carriere’s name alive today. Other of her observations that are often quoted include:
  • If a cat did not put a firm paw down now and then, how could his human remain possessed?
  • I suspect that many an ailurophobe hates cats only because he feels they are better than he is — more honest, more secure, more loved, more whatever he is not.
  • The cat is the mirror of his human’s mind. The dog mirrors his human’s physical appearance.

Lois Bannerman: 
Harpist With A Kick

Lois Bannerman had an unusually interesting life, starting off when she was 10 and used her skates to fight off two male attackers, and ending with the elegance of antique Savannah townhouse.

In between she was one of the nation’s top harpists.

Lois Tiffany Bannerman was born in New York City in 1920 and grew up on Long Island, where at the age of seven, her harpist mother began teaching her the instrument. By the time she was 15, she was winning major awards in New York City and at 16, was invited to play at the White House.

But it was when she was 10 years old that she first made headlines. And what headlines!

TWO FAIL IN ATTEMPT TO KIDNAP HEMPSTEAD GIRL: TALENTED CHILD ESCAPES CLUTCHES OF KIDNAPERS declared the headline on a story that occupied the complete front page of the Nassau Daily Review on Sept. 3, 1931.

GIRL SKATER, 10, BATTLES 2 KIDNAPERS said the five column headline in the New York Daily News.

According to the accounts, “two swarthy-complexioned men” pulled up alongside Bannerman as she was roller-skating along a sidewalk near her home. One man hopped out of the car, grabbed the girl and covered her mouth with his hand. When she began fighting, the second man got out of the car and tried to hold her.

“Kicking and struggling, she used her steel-shod feet to such good advantage that the men dropped her, leaped back in their car and fled as another machine approached the scene,” said the Nassau County newspaper.

The Daily News put it this way: “She put up such a stiff struggle that the driver of the car was forced to come to his companion’s aid. He had a length of rope in his hands, and when he stooped in an

attempt to bind the girl’s legs, she felled him with a blow from her skate-clad foot.

“‘Look out! I hear a car!’ cried the fallen man and both leaped into their car and sped away.” They were never caught.

By the time she was 15, Bannerman was winning awards — including a scholarship to Juilliard — and performing in major concert venues in New York City. She went on to have a long career as a harpist, appearing with many major orchestras, on Broadway and frequently on early television. (A video of her in her 20s, performing in a light-hearted version of “In the Gloaming” in 1944, can be found on YouTube.)

In 1947, she married Harold Henrick, a 27-year-old Marine trainee, and the couple had a son, Mark. However, the marriage ended tragically in 1955 when Captain Henrick was piloting a private plane from his base in New Bern, N.C., to Long Island to spend Christmas with his wife and son. Almost within sight of his destination, the plane crashed into the Atlantic. A week later, his body washed ashore at the Rockaways.

Ten years later, Bannerman married John L. Senior Jr., a wealthy Harvard and MIT-graduate businessman, who had a “gentleman’s farm” in Ridgebury. The farm spread across the towns of

Ridgefield, Danbury and North Salem, N.Y., off Turner and Saw Mill Roads. While the main house may have been in Danbury, the couple always gave their address as Ridgefield. (The Senior farm is now a mix of pastures for horses, multifamily and single-family housing, and the corporate headquarters of Belimo — a maker of heating and air conditioning devices.)

In the late 1960s the couple moved to a house on the shore at Southport but soon after, they divorced.

In the 1960s and 70s, Bannerman continued performing, but spent part of her time working on supporting the Berkshire Music Center, home of the Tanglewood summer concerts, as well as teaching the harp. One of her students was her own son, John L. Senior III, who, like his mother and grandmother, became a professional harpist.

Bannerman eventually married Howard Crawford, a Connecticut architect and builder, and the two retired in the mid-1980s to a four-story 1854 Greek Revival townhouse in the city of Savannah, Ga. where they operated a bed-and-breakfast. Bannerman died in 1992 at the age of 71.

In the 1960s, composer John Downey was commissioned to compose a harp concerto for Lois Bannerman, but for reasons that are unclear, she was never able to premiere it. The work lay unplayed for years until her harpist son, John Senior, began championing its performance in memory of his mother.

In 1998, with Senior on the harp and John Downey conducting, the   Concerto for Harp was recorded by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and is today available from MMC Recordings.

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