Liz Cooke, R.I.P.

Liz Cooke sadly passed away on Friday 12th July, 2013 at her home, Tigoni, in the presence of her family.

I first met Liz in 1970. Tom Stokes, who is now very ill, was Captain of UCDBC that year and the Senior VIII coached by Tom Sullivan had been unbeaten. At Trinity regatta that year UCDBC won all VIII’s events, Senior, Junior and Maiden. Many will not remember Ireland at the time but money was very short and much had not changed much since the 19th century. A bar of chocolate still cost 6d., and the weekly wage allowed no extravagance. The previous year a member of the senior VIII had collapsed from malnutrition and a life threatening low blood count. Tom sent Frank McKenna and the late Dave Gannon on an exploratory expedition to Henley to find accommodation for the crew. They set off on the cattle boat and returned safely with exciting news of our accommodation.

The four of the crew that travelled with me were so heavy that I had to sit in the back of my Ford Anglia, to prevent the car sitting down on the shock absorbers with grinding thuds at every bump. We sailed overnight and arrived at Sonning Common in the mid afternoon. The house was empty and nobody around until a small boy and girl around seven years of age ran from the back garden excitedly shouting at us to find their rabbit which had escaped. Liz arrived shortly afterwards (with essential shopping) to find a strange empty car in the driveway and when she went around the back she saw oarsmen on their hands and knees, heads in the bushes and backside sticking up in the air, looking for a white rabbit.

The ten days to two weeks (I cannot recall the exact time) that we stayed with Liz were idyllic. John & Diana were sent to a tent in the back garden to make space for the crew. Liz was unbelievably generous and fed us like kings. We consumed huge amounts of food. One memory is of a gallon tin of ice cream being polished off. Nobody on the crew had experienced such food in such quantities. As we only had one car she ferried the rest of the crew into and home from Henley. She told me some years later that it was her first time putting up crews and she was apprehensive. There was no sign of it. Over all the years she has never wavered in her generosity which was her spirit and nature. It was not just a home from home she was a fairy godmother to all from UCD who stayed with her.

I stayed with her the following year the first year of the” Animals” and some three years later she looked after the UCD crew that won the Ladies Plate a small reward for all her generosity to UCDBC and its alumni that she continued for the rest of her life.

It was in later years that I got to know Liz better through long tete a tetes in her beautiful garden in Tigoni. She did not have an easy life but never showed it. Any sadness that floated into her memories would be fully dissipated within minutes. She had a very broad vision and experience of life and a great love of her parents, grandparents and of course her children and grandchildren. She had a love for Ireland and felt a loss at leaving it. She also had a love for Russia and in 1970 provided an interpreter for the Russian crew. She was a very cultured person with a great eye for artistic beauty, an aesthete to the core.

She delighted in her granddaughter, Beth’s performances at the Gate and travelled especially to see them. She was deeply proud that Beth forsook the fame and fortune that the name Cusack would have brought her and retained Cooke, although Liz would not have been critical of her if she had done so. Liz could communicate with all persons from the most surly teenage oarsman to the “so with it” oarswoman and she did have to put up with an extraordinary cross section of oarsmen and women.

Liz had prepared so that John and Diana coped wonderfully with the invasion of their home and integrated with us as if we were family. One abiding memory is sitting on the floor of her sitting room with some of the crew, Liz, John and Diana while she played and explained wonderful classical music which entranced us. Another was a walk on a lovely summer afternoon when she brought us through the bridle paths near Sonning Common including a track through a wheat field bending with the ripening corn. She had been deeply hurt by life in particular by the tragic and untimely death of Diana, yet she was one of the most spiritual and loving people I have met. She had the ability to see life, and make you see life as a wonderful tapestry full of life, colour, culture, sport, endeavours but at the same time see but not despair of its shocks, unfairness, and adversities. I can still hear her chuckle of delight at my expression of surprise at my first sip of a superb Rioja she furnished on our return from Henley after our defeat in a race. That moment and the wonderful aftertaste will linger for ever.

Liz was ever thoughtful and fiercely loyal. She was always planning on how to make the trips of UCDBC and OC more enjoyable. After an early morning defeat she would have a full breakfast ready for us on our return despite having been up at the crack of dawn to breakfast us before we left for the race. She was also mischievous and delightful.

I shall leave it to others more capable to seek to explain Liz’ life and all she has done for UCDBC, rather than these scattered thoughts and memories which are precious to me.

Liz will be sorely missed by generations of UCDBC, OCBC and all who knew her. Her memory will live on, both in the sadness of her loss and the strength of her nature that we take life as it comes and live it to the full with generosity and love, exploiting ones gifts and nature to the full to that end. A wonderful loving person that I and generations of UCDBC through her 44 years of association were most privileged to meet.

James Heney


5 thoughts on “Liz Cooke, R.I.P.

  1. Jim
    – very eloquently put. In those magical fortnights that we experienced around Henley time, Liz’s home in Sonning was an oasis of calm and contentment – an experience that I have fond memories to this day – may she rest in paece.

  2. Evocative words, Jim, and a deserved tribute to Liz.

    She contributed unselfishly to the enjoyment of the rowing life for so many College rowers; and to the success of some of the best crews the two clubs have known.
    Liz Cooke- and that unspoilt corner of England, Binfield Heath- will live in our memories.

  3. Liz was a real diamond, something very rare. Her kindness and attentiveness were outstanding to all. She will be missed and remembered by many.

  4. Such very fond memories of great times there. Hazy heat, fantastic meals, the excitement of competition in the finest of regattas. Liz’s generosity and kindness made so much possible, she will be long remembered.

    It should also me mentioned that she had a great collection of records (although I don’t think I could ever listen to Alice’s Restaurant Massacre again).

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