Bakersfield – Perry Clarkson Cooper, died Nov. 3, 2017 at McClure-Miller VNA Respite House in Colchester at the age of 84, survived by his sister, Mrs. Alice Richardson, his daughter Mrs. Cynthia Kelly and his son Mr. Stephen Cooper.
Born on January 4th, 1933 in York, PA, Perry spent most of his youth in Poughkeepsie, NY. If stories are to be believed, his first swimming lesson coincided with his Baptism, and directly involved the Hudson River – though records of such Baptism and swimming lesson are not locatable. He attended Arlington High School in Poughkeepsie from 1947-1950 when it was decided by his parents and a presiding judge that the needs of the Poughkeepsie community, the State of New York, and the nation at large would best be served by his attending Admiral Farragut Naval Preparatory Academy in Pine Beach, NJ. As a member of the Farragut student body, he also enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Reserve at Lakehurst, NJ, where he was trained in and supported dirigible operations. His experience keeping lighter than air blimps tethered to the ground would prove highly useful in his future activities ranging from father to engineer to technical guru for Franklin County’s music scene in the 1970s.In subsequent years that tether would prove miraculously flexible.
Perry attended the U.S. Naval Academy from 1952 to early 1955. Despite best efforts by all involved, Perry and the Navy Department – including the Academy Staff – agreed it would be best if Perry discontinued his studies in Annapolis. He began attending Columbia University in Sept 1955, studying jazz by night and electrical engineering by day. Perry graduated in 1958 and immediately was hired by General Dynamic’s Electric Boat Division in Groton, CT. For the next 12 years, he directly participated in the designing, engineering, building and maintenance of reactors for the U.S. Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As a “Nuclear Cowboy” at the height of the Cold War, Perry was on the front lines of pioneering engineering, using his exceptional mind to solve some of the most challenging nuclear and marine design problems encountered to date. During these years, Perry married Elizabeth Page Echols of Greenville, DE, and began a family, moving as required by the needs of the fledgling nuclear navy, but always coming back to Groton, where the boats were built. By 1970, however, Perry’s philosophical and political views had shifted, and he was no longer willing to participate in the Military-Industrial Complex. The Nuclear Cowboys were being pushed out by bureaucrats, and his realizations concerning the destructive power to which he had contributed weighed heavily on him. From 1970 to 1973, he explored a range of enthusiasms with the same vigor he had approached nuclear engineering. One exploration of note included his first and last attempt at driving a motorcycle, which involved a semi-controlled excursion through the gardens of the Enders Island Monastery in Stonington, CT, which ended abruptly at the base of one of their seawalls.
Perry separated from his wife in 1973, divorcing in 1974. He embraced alternative lifestyles and relocated to a commune in Preston, CT. In the winter of 1974, while on a road trip to explore northern Vermont and experience the local music scene, Perry had a chance encounter with Franklin County’s John Cassel and some of John’s uncooperative sound equipment. A friendship and calling were quickly established, and Perry moved to Vermont, staying first with John and eventually purchasing the old Will Johnson Sawmill, and surrounding land in Bakersfield.
Assuming many roles in Bakersfield, none of them having to do with submarines or reactors, Perry began his Franklin County life as the sound engineer for the John Cassel band, fitting in well with an ensemble well acquainted with very high frequencies. He was a mender of fences – among them the split rail that used to grace the town park and cemetery; a most unusual town constable with imaginative but effective solutions to thorny rural problems; a long-serving member of the Bakersfield Planning Commission, and a spirited social irritant who waged a valiant but doomed battle against Wal-Mart’s inevitable invasion of St. Albans. Friend to bikers, hikers, outcasts, in-laws, outlaws, and strays of all species, Perry accepted people as he found them. As he so eloquently put it, “Everybody’s somebody’s weirdo.” Occasionally he would travel afar, to South Korea for example, to solve a perplexing engineering problem, but he always came home to Cold Hollow. Explorer of atoms, molecules, fission, flat-head Ford V-8’s, inner and outer space, he has now, after 84 years on this planet (mostly) traveled to that final frontier. Safe journey, old friend. The tears we cry now are for us left here without you.
A memorial service will take place in late spring with the time and date to be announced at www.awrfh.com where you can also share your memories.