Perhaps the most appropriate way to end this year is with a love story — the story of Dr. Raymond Cook, 96, and Dr. Elisabeth Mays Stein Cook, who passed away last week at the age of 94.
Even the most casual reader of this column knows the influence Raymond Cook has had on my life. I won’t go through the details again today because this column isn’t about me. Suffice it to say I would not be at this point in my life, personally or professionally, had I not had an English-literature class from this good and learned man while on academic probation at Georgia State University many years ago. He changed my life.
It took me four decades to have the good sense to look up Dr. Cook and thank him personally for what he meant to me. Now living in Valdosta, he retired after a distinguished career at Valdosta State University and as former president of Young Harris College — an author and a man of great intellect and wry humor.
It was on this visit that I met his wife, Dr. Elisabeth Cook, a retired psychologist with an eminent career of her own. She had been chief psychologist at the Regional Institute for Children in Baltimore and chief psychologist at the Juvenile and Family Court of West Palm Beach, Florida. Equally important, she was kind and gracious, as pretty on the inside as on the outside.
It was clear after spending time with them that Elisabeth and Raymond Cook adored each other. But that is just the beginning of this love story. You see, Raymond had first proposed marriage to Elisabeth in 1943. She accepted his proposal in 1995.
Dean Poling, managing editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, retold their story so eloquently a couple of Christmases ago in Valdosta Scene magazine that I asked him if I might share portions of it this day.
Poling writes, “Christmastime 1942. A little more than a year after Pearl Harbor. The United States and the world at war. Raymond Cook had spent many weeks training as a Navy airship pilot in Lakehurst, N.J. Airships.
“‘I coming home for Christmas on a troop train crowded with men and there was this attractive young lady sitting on a suitcase,’ Cook recalls more than 70 years later.” The young lady was Elisabeth Mays.
“Cook persuaded a soldier to get up and give the young lady his seat. She sat down, and given time, Raymond eventually worked his way to sitting beside Elisabeth. He was traveling to his hometown in Harlem, Ga. She was traveling to Miami, where she worked with the Navy.
“Stepping off of the train, Raymond considered Elisabeth a remarkable woman, their encounter memorable, one of those moments a young man carries into old age, but frankly, he never expected to see Elisabeth again.
“He would be wrong. They would meet again. Six months later in June 1943, when he was assigned to Miami, where he looked up the attractive young lady from the train. They dated. He proposed that same year by telegram. ‘Dear Miss Mays (stop) Will you marry me? (stop)’ Cook cannot remember why he sent the proposal by telegram.
“Elisabeth, always rational, always calm, always logical, always analytical, traits that would aid her in a long career as a psychologist, turned down Raymond’s proposal. With the world at war, she reasoned in saying no, marriage was too risky a prospect. Too many deployments, too many thousands of miles and years apart, the prospect of sudden death and the unknown.”
Both would go on to enjoy successful marriages and careers. Years later, after both had become widowed, Elisabeth and Raymond began to see each other again. On one trip to Valdosta, the two of them went to McDonald’s to eat. Now in their mid-70s, Dr. Raymond Cook once again proposed marriage to Dr. Elisabeth Mays Stein. This time, she accepted. They were married in May 1995. As Raymond Cook told Poling, “If there’s a moral to this story, it is if you have a good goal, don’t give up.”
It was worth the wait. I never saw two people more devoted to each other than Raymond Cook and Elisabeth Cook. They proved that true love defies time and circumstances. If their marriage was shorter than some, it was richer by far than many. Most of all, it was meant to be.