James R. Cooley, 53, engineer and avid mountain climber

March 18, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

James R. Cooley, an AAI Corp. engineer and avid hiker who never lost his affection for New Hampshire's White Mountains, died of melanoma Monday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Reisterstown resident was 53.

Mr. Cooley was born in Middletown, Conn., and raised in Portland, Conn. After graduating from high school in 1970, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1974 and a master's a year later.

While at Rensselaer, part of Mr. Cooley's graduate work involved heading up the design of the electronics installed on the Mars Rover project, which was contracted from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He moved to Baltimore in 1975, when he took a position at Bendix Corp. in Towson. Three years later, he went to work for AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, where he designed radar system simulators used primarily by the Navy.

"He also worked on other projects such as a trainer for fighting fires and a device that used a parachute combined with rocket engines for dropping heavy equipment into combat areas," said a son, Jimmy Cooley of Cambridge, Mass.

"He liked technical work and for the most part helped find business for AAI and sell them on our technology. He knew a great deal about how radar worked and simulators," said Michael E. Bitner, a longtime friend and a systems engineer at AAI.

Described by colleagues as "extremely gifted," Mr. Cooley was the author of several papers, was a frequent speaker at engineering conferences, and held a patent for "Synthesis of Overlapping Radar Chirp Waveforms."

While working full time, Mr. Cooley earned a master's degree in business from George Washington University in 1986.

Mr. Cooley's interest in hiking began in his youth.

"His dad was a hiker, and when my father was a little kid, he would go with the Portland YMCA on hiking trips, and that's when he fell in love with the mountains," his son said.

In 1969, Mr. Cooley became the third-generation family member to work at the Appalachian Mountain Club's camp at Three Mile Island on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

"As a teenager and young man, he began climbing 4,000-footers, mountains in New England whose elevations exceed 4,000 feet, and he eventually reached the summits of 37 of the 48 of those peaks that are in New Hampshire," his son said.

Mr. Cooley also made several ascents of Mount Katahdin, which at more than 5,200 feet is Maine's highest mountain.

He also hiked up New Hampshire's 6,288-foot Mount Washington several times, as well mountains in California, Washington, Arizona and Hawaii. Locally, he enjoyed hiking on Old Rag Mountain in Virginia.

"In recent years, however, he preferred to return to New Hampshire and hike in the White Mountains with his sons," his son said.

"On one hike, he was staying in a cabin on a mountain when a storm came up. Lightning hit the cabin and split a board. He was unhurt but kept that 3-foot-by-2-foot piece of wood on the wall of his office as a souvenir," Mr. Bitner said.

Other outdoor pursuits including riding the Northern Central bicycle trail in northern Baltimore County.

Mr. Cooley was also an expert woodworker who enjoyed making furniture and as an adult learned to play the piano. His musical interests, said family members, tended toward the ragtime music of Scott Joplin.

Mr. Cooley played bridge and liked ballroom dancing. He also was fascinated by airplanes, ships and submarines, and read widely on these subjects.

He was active in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. today at Monkton United Methodist Church, 1930 Monkton Road.

"We're going to spread Dad's ashes in the White Mountains," his son said.

Also surviving are his wife of seven years, Tammy Baran; another son, John Cooley of Cambridge, Mass.; his mother, Anita Gore Cooley of Portland, Conn.; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Stoner of Lutherville; and four sisters, Anne Cooper of Olathe, Kan., Lynn Cooley of Guilford, Conn., Pamela Blandino of Paxton, Mass., and Amanda Cooley of Natick, Mass. A previous marriage to Marcia Mattey ended in divorce.

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fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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