Lee Pearl Cooper, 78, activist in Anne Arundel

April 20, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lee Pearl Cooper, an Anne Arundel County resident who was known for her spirited civic activism, died Sunday from complications of Parkinson's disease at her Pumphrey residence. She was 78.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Cooper maintained a strong interest in her home, church and community, said family members.

A tall woman who wore fancy hats and was never without gloves, even in the heat of summer, Mrs. Cooper won over adversaries with her warm smile and charismatic personality.

She led voter registration drives, collected food for the needy, gathered and dispensed scholarship money to minority students and took part in membership drives for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

On election days, she helped organize rides to the polls for voters. She was a member of the Women's Progressive League and the Taxpayers' Improvement Association in Pumphrey, where she had lived since 1947.

When Anne Arundel officials planned to close Pumphrey Elementary School on Belle Grove Road, Mrs. Cooper thought otherwise.

Realizing the need for a community center, she fought to convert the former school into the Lloyd Keaser Community Center, named after a resident who attended the Naval Academy and earned a silver medal in wrestling at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

"She always had big smile for Democrats or Republicans," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat, yesterday.

"She was a mild-tempered individual who was very firm in her positions and always able to get her point across. Her contributions to bridging the divide between the races are immeasurable. She has made long-lasting contributions to her community and county on the whole," he said.

"She'll be missed as a community leader," said U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat.

"That was her spirit. She was a person who loved people and wanted to help them help themselves," said a daughter, Beverly "B.J." Douglass of Pumphrey.

"My mother realized that we had a unique neighborhood and believed that people shouldn't be bitter. A better attitude about things would take away the bitterness. That's how we were raised. We were raised not to hate. We were raised to be proud and with the notion that people can rise above their troubles," she said.

"She used to say, `If you harbor hatred in your heart, then you must hate yourself. However, when you love yourself, then it is easy to love others,'" said Mrs. Douglass.

Born Lee Pearl Smith in Fountain Inn, S.C., the seventh of eight children of sharecropper parents, she was a graduate of Greenville (S.C.) High School.

She married Heyward Cooper, a postal worker, and settled in Pumphrey, an African-American community formed after the Civil War in northern Anne Arundel County near the border with Baltimore City.

After her husband's death in 1956, she supported her four daughters by working as a seamstress and domestic and made sure they all attended college.

A self-reliant woman who made her own home repairs, Mrs. Cooper earned an associate's degree in counseling from Bay College in Baltimore.

She wrote poetry and during the 1960s was a columnist for the Cherry Hill News, a community newspaper. She also enjoyed giving dramatic readings at schools, churches and colleges and serving as a motivational speaker.

"She may have been a domestic, but she was a very proud person," said Mrs. Douglass.

She was a member of St. John's United Methodist Church, 6011 Belle Grove Road, Pumphrey, where services will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

Besides Mrs. Douglass, she is survived by three other daughters, Ella Grace White Campbell of Randallstown, and Ramocille Johnson and Heysette Elaine Leigh, both of Pumphrey; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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