JACKSON, MISS. — I was first introduced to the world of antiques by my mother, as a boy growing up in Jackson. I frequently tagged along with her to shops and shows and art exhibits, absorbing, I am sure, far more than I ever realized at the time. In addition, she made certain I was encouraged and given the opportunity of lessons in any area of the arts that I seemed to have a leaning....studying drawing, painting, sculpture, piano and guitar, family genealogy, gardening and historic architecture. She knew instinctively the correlation of the arts and the immense value of exposure and training for a child.
So much of who I am today is directly related to her subtle guidance and example in the arts as well as life lessons. The pain of losing a mother who is also a mentor, best friend and confidant is unbearable. There were so many more memories yet to come. Rita continued her enthusiasm for her antiques search in many areas, particularly early textiles, as well as her love of museums, attending shows and galleries throughout the South, Pennsylvania and New England, up until her illness four months ago.
For those who knew my mother, I would like to share the following thoughts, and for those who did not... the truth that a person of her stature and quality walked quietly among us unknowingly and unintentionally, setting an example so worthy of reflection.
Editor’s Note: Rita Cook of Jackson, Miss., died December 10, 2012, at home with her children at her side.
We Remember Mama
Mama was born on September 19, 1925, on a simple cotton farm in the Delta near Boyle, Miss. There began a wonderful life that would be cherished by countless admiring family and friends for 87 years. Her love of beauty, nature and the arts was an instinctive gift that blossomed like the flowers she loved, first as a little girl. She picked the wild violets in the yard of the farmhouse and took them in to her mother, Vashti, who in later years would become our cherished “Granny.” Knowing her love of flowers, her father, Will, always planted sweet peas in the garden, one of her most favorite.
As she grew, she was allowed to take piano lessons in Cleveland after school. Then after piano lessons she walked a few blocks to take dance. On the way to dance classes, she often stopped at an antique shop, and marveled at all the beautiful objects, thus planting the seeds of her lifelong appreciation of the arts in this area.
Farm life also gave Mama a genuine appreciation of common folks, animals and simple pleasures that shaped her outlook on life and her gracious interactions with all those whose lives touched hers. From the delightful smell of sheets hung in the sunshine to dry to her sensitive understanding of her longtime yard man’s care to leave certain seed pods uncut for the little birds, her perceptions of life enriched her spirit that so many have found so endearing through the years.
As much as she strived for excellence in her interests of church, teaching children, flower design, antique linens, cooking, bridge, interior design and gardening, she always radiated a down-to-earthiness and humbleness...so content and never feeling like she deserved the very best life had to offer. And this realness, kindness, genuineness and happy optimistic disposition are traits that ingratiated her so warmly to others.
She attended Belhaven College and Millsaps College and was a longtime active member of Chi Omega sorority. She was married to William R. Cook, who was for a number of years district agent for New England Life Insurance. Throughout the years, she so enjoyed her travels, primarily trips to Europe, Florida, Colorado, California, New England and across the South.
Mama was a member and office holder of many clubs and organizations, including Le Dejeuner Luncheon Club, Southern Luncheon Club, Las Comaradas, Town and Country Garden Club, Wise Owls Chi Omega group, a number of antique and stitchery clubs and fun foursomes of bridge groups. She taught Sunday school for children for over 50 years at Galloway United Methodist Church and was long admired for these many years of devotion.
The display of her flower design at Galloway and elsewhere around the city, including the governor’s mansion and scores of beautiful dinners and weddings gained her a highly respected following and a continuous demand for her talents and skills. Her unique gift of achieving that effortless “just gathered from the fields” look in her work has always been her signature. Called on frequently as a presenter for talks on antique linens, parasols and flower design, she was always so enthusiastic in sharing her knowledge with others.
Though so very loved for her many gifts, skills, talents, interests, thoughtful ways and strong faith, possibly her most endearing trait was her lovely, beautiful and innocent childlike wonder and aura that she never lost. We will miss her deeply and in immeasurable ways but we believe she will be with us always... always.
She is predeceased by her husband Bill Cook, parents Vashti and Will Hendricks, and three brothers, William, James, and Mike Hendricks. She is survived by one daughter and son-in-law, Retta Boyd, neonatal educator at St Dominic’s Hospital, and Scott Boyd, editor and owner of the Macon Beacon newspaper; one son, Bart Cook, landscape architect and land planner, also of Jackson; and another son, Scott Cook, children’s book illustrator, painter and sculptor of Sandwich, Mass., and her dearly beloved grandson, Christopher, a junior majoring in accounting at Mississippi State.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests gifts be made in her honor to Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church.