Lawyer, water expert, Navy man: Frank Cooley dies at age 91

Frank G. Cooley

Frank G. Cooley
Frank G. Cooley
MEEKER I Frank Gideon Cooley III, 91, was born June 11, 1923, to Frank Gideon Cooley Jr. and Asta Knutsen Cooley. He died at his home in Meeker on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014.

Per request from the family, the following obituary or life of Frank G. Cooley III, is being rerun. It was first published in the Rio Blanco Herald Times in 2009. It was adopted from an article written by then-editor Jeff Burkhead:
“If there is an iconic figure of Meeker, it may well be Frank Cooley. Though he grew up an Easterner, being born and raised in New York City and later in Westchester County, Cooley has been closely associated with Meeker and western Colorado since the mid-1950s.
Frank was more Coloradan than New Yorker. He was also a fixture in Meeker’s annual Range Call parade — for many years he drove the old Dodge fire truck in the parade, a role he jealously held on to.
Cooley rode in this year’s parade with the VFW, proudly wearing his Navy dress uniform.
Growing up in New York, Cooley remembers watching Civil War veterans marching in parades, which made a lasting impression. Based on those memories, as well as his own experiences, Cooley made a habit of visiting local schools to talk to students about the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by war veterans.
Frank reached the rank of lieutenant during his service in WWII. He served as a Combat Information Center (CIC) officer on the USS Grady, a destroyer escort. The CIC was the hub for the newly developed technologies of Sonar, Surface Radar and Aerial Radar and they were staffed by young “whiz kid” officers who had to take very arduous training and sometimes didn’t blend well with the “old salts” of the regular Navy.
Frank served in the Philippine and Okinawa campaigns (on the “suicide line,” where Kamakazi attacks were sinking a ship a day for a time.) He also was part of the Iwo Jima campaign and witnessed the raising of the first American flag on the summit of Suribachi.
Cooley’s time in the Navy paved the way for him to get a college education. Using the G.I. Bill, Cooley earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in geology from the University of Colorado. He then took a position with the U.S. Geological Survey, which turned out to be his introduction to northwest Colorado.
“I had an awful lot of fun because while I was with the Geological Survey; I was up on top of the the Flat Tops mapping and I loved it,” Cooley said. “Geology on horseback. It just couldn’t be more wonderful.”
Cooley returned to Boulder a year later and went to law school.
From there, he spent a year in Saskatchewan, Canada, working for Socony oil company and then went to Wall Street, before ending up in Denver, where he practiced oil law.
That’s also where he met Carolyn, his wife-to-be, who was working in radio at the time. She was also certified as an English teacher.
The couple came to Meeker in 1955.
“She got a job in the clerk’s office and then later as an English teacher (at the middle school),” Cooley said. “That had a lot to do with us surviving and having enough to eat.”
Meanwhile, Cooley went to work as an attorney.
“The bar association in Denver told me about a fine old lawyer in Meeker who was named Herb Gordon, who needed someone in the office,” Cooley said. The man who hired Cooley — Herb Gordon — had been the attorney for White River Electric Association, a position Cooley later held from 1968 to 2001.
Over the course of Cooley’s long legal career, he had many accomplishments, Including serving as chairman and U.S. representative for the Arkansas River Compact Administration from 1976 to 1995 (he was first appointed by President Ford and was re-appointed by the next four presidents) and being named Planner of the Year by the American Society of Planning Officials in 1974.
Frank was particularly proud of his role as chairman of the Oil Shale Regional Planning Commission from 1971 to 1974.
“We did a great deal of work during the last oil shale boom, but the real accomplishment was we alerted the governor, who was John Vanderhoof, to the bid opening for the oil shale tracts,” he said. “We got $75 million from the bid money for these oil shale tracts for the four counties of western Colorado (most affected).”
“That created a trust fund in Rio Blanco County that the commissioners have protected very well over the years,” he said. “That $75 million was a helluva important event in my life, and I’m immensely proud of it.”
“I’ve been very political,” Cooley said. “I’d go to any meeting of any kind I could. I just loved it.”
But Cooley was quick to share the credit for whatever accolades have come his way.
“I had the marvelous good fortune to have two ladies (work for him), each of whom was smarter than I was — Arda Harp and Carol Daugherty
With his background and interest in geology, it seemed natural that Cooley would focus his legal practice in oil, gas and water law. He became an authority on the subject of oil shale and a proponent of its development on a commercial scale.
Cooley, who was an avid skier after teaching himself the sport following the 1936 Lake Placid Olympics, first fell in love with this area because of the richness of the geology and the beauty of the country — and the skiing.
In the late 1950s, he, along with Dr. Virgil Gould, started taking bus loads of kids to Aspen to learn to ski, starting a program that would continue for many years — but to different areas and give countless Meeker kids an introduction to skiing.
Cooley’s wife Carolyn died 12 years ago. Carolyn was a longtime teacher at the middle school and, for many years, she was narrator for the Meeker Massacre Pageant.
A lover of words in her own right, she could match wits with her husband.
“My wife was a grammarian,” Cooley said. “We would have arguments about the meaning of words. She would go to her Merriam Webster Dictionary, and I would go to the Random House Unabridged. It was amazing how many times her dictionary agreed with her, and my dictionary agreed with me.”
The Cooleys had two children: son Andrew, who is an Episcopal priest married to Terri and living in Colorado Springs, where he serves as Interim Rector of Grace at St. Stephen’s; and daughter Karen of Tacoma, Wash. She works in production management for REI, which manufactures and sells outdoor apparel; and granddaughter, Micaela, who was Frank’s pride and joy and who also lives in Tacoma.
Frank used to read three newspapers a day.
“Macular degeneration has interfered with my reading, and that’s a killer, because I had subscribed to 32 different magazines; that makes me sad,” Frank said.
“At my present age, I find every once in awhile that I dwell on things that I said that I should have not said, and various acts of idiocy.
“But the one remarkable thing that balances that out is that I’m happy just almost all of the time,” he said.
Frank died at home of the heart disease first diagnosed 37 years ago. He was 91.
His several round-the-clock caregivers, especially Carol Crain; Pioneers Home Health; HopeWest, especially Solveig Olson and Joy Allen; Drs. Beth Buisker and Albert Krueger; and St. James’ Episcopal Church, especially Fr. Scott Hollenbeck, provided Frank gracious dignity and high quality of living through his final breath.
Donations to those organizations would certainly honor Frank.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, at St. James Episcopal Church. Interment will follow in Meeker’s Highland Cemetery.

1 Comment

  1. When I taught Earth & Space Science, Frank would come in and talk about the Geology of the White River Valley. To this day I have a difficult time saying Mancos Shale since Frank called it Mancos Crap. His description of the geology would involve acting out different events; walking out to the NE corner of the HS and viewing the Valley. I know I was lucky to hear his geology!

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