(Note: this was written shortly after Derek's accident on July 17th, 1999)
Derek Cooper was killed Saturday, July 17 while riding his motorcycle back from town.
We will all miss him terribly.
Derek was unique. He was a
bigger than life character whose presence was unavoidable. Even though he was gruff
and sometimes petulant, he was still universally liked. He was a hard working salt
miner, beer drinker and bar stool philosopher. While most people assumed that Derek
was British, he was in fact Canadian, hailing from St. Thomas Ontario. Years of
living in England gave him a thick British accent that always made Derek stand out in a
crowd of Canadians.
I met Derek in the Park House
the summer of 1988 (as best as I can recall). I told him that I had been doing some
paintings of Goderich. He insisted that I go to my car and bring them in for his
"expert eye." Well his criticism was harsh, but on the money. Others
at the bar were telling him to 'lighten up on me.' He then told me of his own art
career. It turns out this critic was for several years a painter for Royal Wooster
Porcelain. He also had a talent for oil portraits.
When the evening ended he asked
where I was staying when I came to Goderich. I said that I was camping out at Point
Farms Provincial park. He said that on my next visit that I could stay at his place.
from air-Derek's house is upper left-click to enlarge. Photo by Mac Campbell
And so it was to be for
the next 10 years. Derek said I was the only one he could tolerate staying at his
place. The truth is we never really spent much time there together. In the
mornings we would work the crossword and listen to the CBC, or sometimes just stare out
across the river. I always looked forward to my trips to Goderich and my stays with
Mr. Cooper. He always opened his house to me provided, of course, that I brought
cheep U..S. Camel non-filter cigarettes and sometimes Busch beer. Once it was even
potted beef that he claimed he just couldn't get in Goderich.
view from Derek's Kitchen
Derek even visited me
twice in Columbus with his friend from the mine, Fred. The two of them loved it
here. They thought that while Columbus was a big city, it still had nice charming
neighborhoods. And the two of them took them by storm. When I came back after
teaching a class to pick the two of them up at a bar in Grandview, a guy at the bar asked
them, "is he bothering you?" I said, "what's this all about?
I'm their damn chaperone!!" Derek could make friends instantly anywhere
While visiting Columbus
we spent several hours out in the county on the famous "Boot Hunt." The
Boot Hunt was a multinational, decades long search for 'Farm and Ranch' boots (a bit more
utilitarian than standard cowboy boots), that could tolerate, in his words, "salt
brine, snow, and cow shit." Be sure to add a pint of ale to that list as well.
We actually found a pair, and I'm sure as of a few days ago they rested alongside a
wall full of these boots--all since worn and tired having done their time supporting his
Most of our time together
was spent in Goderich. Usually in the Park House, the Royal Canadian Legion Hall, or
The Duke (and sometimes on Sunday's at Murphy's,...). Here we endured endless hours
of lectures on all manner of subjects. Most of the time the subjects were work
(the Sifto salt mine), women, cows, politics (a labor supporter), art, and travel.
Derek was comfortable conversing on most any subject--and that fact struck terror in most
of the other bar regulars!
While he had a hard
exterior and would publicly come off as a misanthrope and misogynist (and also a
misogamist), he was actually neither. The hard shell was merely there to protect the
soft but seldom seen inside. We always got on well because I knew the whole story.
And in the end if it was a motorcycle that got the better of him, he would have
wanted it that way. This was not a man that was going to go gently into that good
night. It was only fitting that his end would be as bold and dramatic as was his
When he left this world a
piece of my soul went right along with him. I'll miss him. I know that he
wouldn't want us to shed tears. He would rather we go down to the Park House and
pour a pint of ale, light a cigarette and talk glowingly of him. I'll do that for
you old boy.
Derek at the Duke-circa 1996
The memorial service for Derek was held at the Legion hall in Goderich on Monday July
26th, 1999. I was asked to read this web tribute to those present. It was an
honor to do so. I found a few other photos that I wanted to add to the site along
with 3 sound files. They are Real Audio files; one is the greeting from his
answering machine and the other is a conversation I had with him about a week before the
accident. I had this feeling that my conversation would be there since Derek could
never figure out that damn machine.