Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Robert E Cooke, a creator of Head Start, dies at 93

Dr Robert E Cooke, a pediatrician who helped Presidents John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson create major initiatives to benefit children, including Head Start, died on Feb 2 at his home in Oak Bluffs, Mass., on Martha’s Vineyard, the New York Times reports. He was 93.

A committee he led developed the recommendations that launched Head Start. The comprehensive child development program continues to promote early childhood education as well as health, nutrition, and parental education. It has provided assistance for more than 31 million children, mostly from low-income families.

The Head Start programs (directory) in the Baltimore area are run by the Y of Central Maryland, here. In the Chicago area, Head Start has locations in the Chicago Public Schools, here, as well as in community-based organizations and private daycare programs.

Dr Cooke served on the faculty at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for 17 years beginning in 1956, including a stint as chief pediatrician. He also worked at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, which is now part of Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Dr Cooke has been described as a mentor to “a generation of leaders in American pediatrics.” He became a champion for the disadvantaged when he was faced with raising two profoundly disabled daughters, Robyn and Wendy. This challenge shaped his life’s work. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Sharon Riley Cooke, his children, Christopher and W Robert (Denise) of Florida, Kim Cooke Himmelfarb of West Hartford, Connecticut, Susan Cooke Anderson (Christopher) and Anne (Daniel Ennis) of Massachusetts, his grandchildren, Katherine and Brittany, his dogs, Vernon, Miles and Rocky, and his nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his daughters Robyn and Wendy, brother, Ronald W Cooke, MD, and son-in-law Saul L Himmelfarb. Donations in Robert Cooke’s memory may be sent to: Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, PO Box 1929, Edgartown, MA 02539, memo line: Susie Fund.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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