Norm Cooper: Family rememberances


April 24, 2017




Norm Cooper, a longtime leader in the pest management industry and Pest Management Professional Hall of Famer (Class of 1999), passed away on April 5, 2017, at age 85. He served the industry for 63 years, first in 1954 as founder of Abby Exterminating Services, which he sold in 1971 to Exterminating Services Co. (ESCO). Next, he offered merger and acquisition services to colleagues in the industry through Norman Cooper Associates. Most recently, Cooper worked with PCO Bookkeepers as its merger and acquisition specialist.

Although widely respected in the pest management industry, he always put family first. At his funeral service, his three children gave the eulogies that follow.

Wayne Cooper

As most of you know, our father had many interests. In addition to his love for art and travel, he was a passionate foodie, skier, tennis player, theater goer, political commentator and movie and food critic.

But most of all, he was driven to have a positive impact on others and leave the world a better place.

His father had died at a young age, when he was a freshman in college. As the oldest son, he had to discontinue his daytime coursework to run the small family business during the day and go to night school.

When the Korean War broke out, many of his friends were getting student deferrals but the Army didn’t give deferrals for night school and drafted him. But my father didn’t complain (OK, he did) but he soon accepted the hand he was dealt and made the best of it.

He married his childhood sweetheart Marilyn, while in the army and when he got out, tried making a living as a professional cartoonist. But that wasn’t paying the bills, and they wanted to start a family, so he started a pest control company on his kitchen table because it was a business that required very minimal start up capital (and that was one thing he had — very little start up capital).

It was an instant success — not. That first month, they had revenues of only $35. But my dad had drive and unrelenting energy, and over the next 40+ years, he built his company into one of the largest pest control companies in the industry by taking care of his employees and customers, and never taking short cuts. One of his accounts was the Watergate Towers in Washington, D.C. He liked to say that he “debugged the Watergate.”

He was loved by his employees. When I visited him in his office as a kid, the thing that struck me the most was that he was friendly to everyone, from the person who parked his car, to the janitor and security guard in the lobby, to everyone in his office. He knew their family stories and truly cared about them.

I remember once, one of his service technicians had a young son with a terminal illness. Our father visited him on a Saturday and brought our new family puppy to help cheer the boy up. Dad came home without our puppy and explained that this little boy couldn’t play with friends because of his illness; he asked us if we could let this little boy have the puppy and we’d get a new one. It was then that we learned what a rhetorical question was.

Our father liked to help others, even when they were business competitors. He served on the board of his industry association for many years and as its president in ’91 and ’92. At the time, the pest control industry was under attack by environmental groups and had a poor image. He convinced his industry peers to take the offense and embrace vs. fight environmental controls and to improve their safety and training programs. Dad helped re-position pest control from a menial industry of “exterminators” into a profession that people could be proud to be a part and he coined their tagline “guardians of the environment.” He elevated the profession, and the industry has thrived.

When there was an crisis in the Galapagos that was killing the indigenous animals, our father led an industry task force of entomologists to help the Darwin foundation, and they remedied the situation.

Our father was a mentor to dozens of people, and been an industry consultant and deal maker the past 20 years. He didn’t have time for retirement and would say he’d slow down when he got old. But he never did — slow down — or get old, not until the last few months of his illness. He continued to work all these years because he loved the people in his industry — and they loved him back. I can’t tell you how many friends from his industry have called my mother and family the past few days. And some are here today.

Norman has received all the honors of his industry….Man of the Year, Hall of Fame and he is one of only a handful of industry leaders in over 100 years who have ever received the Pinnacle Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has been invited to speak throughout the world –including Russia, India, and China…many times.

My father was a brilliant man — a certified genius and member of the Mensa Society — and had so many interests. He could converse with anyone on any topic. When we used to play trivial pursuit at Thanksgiving, it was always my dad and Uncle Zane against the other 12 of us…to make it competitive. And he always had a joke, no matter the topic. When he met Bill Cosby 10 years ago, my father told him jokes.

Dad was the ultimate extrovert. He got his energy from people. And the top of that list was our mother, his wife of 63 years. All his letters and cards to our mother he would sign, “All my love, all my life, Norm,” and he did.

And he unconditionally loved and believed in my siblings and I, our children, and all his family and friends.

He worked hard and sacrificed so that my siblings and I, and our children, would have the opportunities he never had. When he sold his company and we moved to Rye when I was a teenager, he explained to me that he sold his business so that we could afford to live in a community with great schools and be able to go to college and graduate school wherever we wanted.

But more important than the opportunities he opened up for us was his emotional support. Our father encouraged us to reach for the stars and follow our passions, whatever that was. He didn’t care what we did as long as we gave it our all. And he was always there to coach us and cheer us on (and provide cartoons or artwork if needed). Everything we are is because we stood on his shoulders.

Dad lived each day to the fullest and packed more life and memories into his 85 years than one could hope for. For the past few months, every time I’d see him, he would remind me that when his time was up, we shouldn’t be sad. He felt that he was “playing with the house’s money” and had lived more, seen more, achieved more than he ever dreamed, and he got to do it with the love of his life by his side every step of the way and see his children and grandchildren thrive. He was indeed a lucky man.

My father was a giant in many ways, but he was also the most loving, warm and humble man I know. And he did achieve his ultimate goal: to help others and make the world a better place.

While he is no longer with us physically, he will continue to live on — through all of us — his family and friends.

Shawne Cooper

Author and Rabbi Harold Kushner said, “I believe that it is not dying that people are afraid of. Something more unsettling frightens us. We are afraid of never having lived, of coming to the end of our days with the sense that we were never really alive, that we never figured out what life was for.”

Anyone who’s ever met my dad knows: He had that all figured out. Maybe it was because the men in his family all passed before their 50th birthdays, so he was always aware of how precious time was — and was determined not to waste a minute of it.

Case in point: This is a man who, three years ago at 82, skied in Dubai (yes Dubai, at an indoor ski slope. Because it was there.) A man who, a year later at 83, flew out to the West Coast for business, and insisted on taking the red eye home so that he could make it in time for his sculpture class.

I inherited my dad’s love of adventure. When I was in my mid-20s, I travelled around the world by myself for a year. My father was so excited for me about my open-ended itinerary and wished me well. It was only when I came home to NY a year later that I found out he was so worried about me, he hadn’t slept a full night that entire year. But he never let on while I was away. In fact, one night I called from the road. He asked, “Where are you now?” “Kathmandu,” I said. Without skipping a beat, he said, “Oooooh. Then you have to go to the Yak and Yeti Restaurant.” He hadn’t even been to that part of the world, but he knew exactly where he was going to go when he did.

While he may have worried about me on that trip, it kind of goes with the territory of being a parent to be concerned about your kids’ safety. But my brothers and I had many more reasons to worry about him. Time and time again, my father would come up with these crazy missions that would take him all over the world, and of course, my mother would accompany him everywhere as his “straight man.”

Galapagos Islands: About 20 years ago, my mom and dad announce that they’re going to the Galapagos Islands. “It’ll be hard to reach us,” they said, but they gave us the phone number of the person they’d be staying with, just in case. I had never ever heard of the Galapagos Islands at the time, but a few days after they left, my friend called me and asked, “Didn’t you say your parents are in the Galapagos Islands?” “Yes.” I answered. “Turn on cable news,” my buddy said. “There’s a civil war there right now. And the head of the Darwin Foundation is being held hostage.” Turns out, my dad was on a secret mission to help the environmentalists there. He didn’t tell us about the political unrest because he didn’t want us to be concerned and he thought we’d never find out. This was in the days before you could find information on the internet, so until we able to finally track them down,…

Russia: Then there was also the time that my parents travelled to Russia, back when Jews were being persecuted and jailed for practicing their religion and were held as political prisoners. My parents smuggled messages to help get scientists and other Refuseniks out of the country and were even followed by the KGB. They accomplished that mission, but it was my turn to not sleep until they got back from their trip.

Wherever they were in the world, trouble would follow. They just happened to be in Tibet when the Royal Family was overthrown…

A friend of mine asked, “Are you sure your father wasn’t a spy?” Hmmmmm…

I also inherited from my father a love of the arts. You probably all know how talented my dad was as an artist or at least heard one of us brag about it. A cartoonist, a sculptor, a classic Chinese painter, a neon artist… he did it all. But as talented as my father was (and this is a man whose work is exhibited in the White House, the Smithsonian, in major art museums), his creativity was much deeper than that. For him, it wasn’t just about making aesthetically pleasing art—he used his creativity as a way to encourage people not to take life so seriously, to unite people, and to make people smile.

I realized this just in the last month when I was helping my dad organize his office space. I was sorting though all these piles of his papers and it made me understand in a new way that his creative spirit permeated everything: crossing over between his creative life, his business life and his family life. His generosity with those talents, extended past family and friends, to people he didn’t even know.

Finding the Ninas: Every week, in the Sunday New York Times, the cover of the Arts & Leisure section featured a sketch of a theatrical event from Al Herschfield. The artist would hide his daughter’s name, Nina, within each illustration—in the folds of the fabric of one character, inside the hair of another… On the bottom of the image, he’d always include a numeral, which signified how many times the name Nina was on the page. Every Sunday growing up, my dad would make it into a game, a competition, to see who could find them fastest. He’d even bring a stopwatch. I always won. Probably, my dad let me win. When my daughter was a baby, he painted murals on the walls of her room. As an homage to Hirschfeld, he buried her name, Maia, into the illustrations. He then went on to paint murals on the walls of many of his other grandchildren, and even the grand nieces and nephews who wanted a Norman original.

Cobblestones: When NYC was upgrading its streets from cobblestone to tar, my father pilfered these heavy rectangular stones, one by one, and loaded them up in his station wagon, actually he made several trips to Westchester with the trunk filled with them. And he used every single last one of them all to design the world’s most uncomfortable walkway, as well as a beautifully curved driveway that nobody can back out of. (But they look very charming.)

Woodstock festival: The last story I’ll tell about my father took place when I was a kid, in the summer of 1969. My parents had a summer place in the Catskills, very close to where the Woodstock Festival was being held. But traffic getting there was at a complete standstill on the he road to get there, Route 17B. Thousands of people trying to get to the concert were stuck for days. There was no food or water to be had and the situation was getting serious. My dad had this bright idea to get people together in their community to figure out how to feed all these people who were stranded. My dad’s bright idea was to get bathtub from one of the old abandoned hotels nearby and bring it out to the side of the road and fill it up with food. It turned out that a lot of the women had boxes of Kasha varnishkas left over from the Jewish holidays, so they cooked, they all cooked this grain that was odd to most, and followed their grandmother’s recipes, adding cooked bowtie noodles, onions, and mushrooms. Then all of us families in the community ladled out this strange dish to the stranded hippies on the highway — gratis, of course. My dad was a terrific lettering artist, so he hand painted a sign that hung from a tree, over the bathtub of kasha varnishakas that read: Brought to you by the “establishment.” In other words, those people over 30.

I could go on forever telling “Norman” stories, and for the rest of my life I will, but suffice it to say: my dad was a one-of-a-kind father, grandfather, and man. I guess you could tell, I was sorta kinda fond of him.

Marshall Cooper

Dad had a way of making nearly everyone he met feel special. But especially his family — throughout our lives.

In advance of our move from Brooklyn to Rye, dad wanted my four-year-old self to feel comfortable and at home despite the disruption and new surroundings. So weeks before the big day, he prepared cartoon sketches of jungle animals and had me select my favorites. When I walked into my new bedroom for the first time, on the wall was a glorious mural with my favorite goofy animals, which made my new room immediately better than what I was holding on to. There was no looking back.

Dad continued the tradition by consulting with each grandchild and painting custom murals for each in their bedrooms.

In 1976, dad took me to the Montreal Olympics. It was another era: when gas was $.59 and when Bruce Jenner was still a man. In fact, we saw him win the decathlon. I was so inspired that I recreated multiple Olympic sports in our hotel room, jumping back and forth from bed to bed, which dad handled with a smile. Back then, athletes and spectators like us roamed the Olympic village, with everyone from around the globe trading special pins from their home countries. This pin was from that trip with Dad.

When I was 10, dad would wake me up every morning before school. But he couldn’t do it any normal way. He imaged a way to make even the simple act of waking me up magical and special. He did this by dreaming up different-themed wake-up groups, complete with accents and props.

  • His African Elephants would make trumpet sounds and press my body deep into the bed.
  • His Frigid Eskimos would drop ice cubes down my pajamas and tickle me.
  • His Kissing Eubangies from Africa would shriek and wail, all while kissing me from head to toe.

A week after I arrived at sleep-away camp at the end of that school year, I received a hand illustrated catalog from him detailing my wake up group choices for the next school year. He even included an order form for me to fill in and send back.

With his grandchildren, Grandaddy made them feel connected and special. He and Mom took each one — upon their bar or bat mitzvah — on a special trip somewhere in the world. Italy, Israel, India, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Africa, and France were all on the agenda. The trips were exotic but, more importantly, the grandchildren got the joy and pleasure of getting to know personally these two extraordinary people. When Colette called us from the French countryside, she told us that Grams and Grandaddy were crazy: constantly yelling and bickering. I asked her to rate the trip so far on a scale of 1 to 10. “Twelve,” she said, without hesitation.

The bar and bat mitzvah trips were legendary, but lesser known is that when a Colette was heading to sleepaway camp, dad would warn them in advance that he was going to send them the world’s longest letter. Shortly after arrival, the grandchild received a mailing tube from Grandaddy with dozens and dozens of pages taped together to form a single chain with a message written across banner-style. Each summer, Colette and her bunkmates would tape her longest letter around all 4 walls of their bunk — to the envy of every other bunk.

When dad and mom were visiting me during business school, we stumbled into a gallery in Woodstock, Vt. On the wall were the original signs from the country’s first ski area, Suicide Six, which we all thought were really special. Dad asked for a price, but the gallery manager explained that the signs were not for sale. Dad persisted, saying, “C’mon, give me a number,” to which the gallery manager replied, “Those are part of Mr. Rockefeller’s personal collection, so there is no ‘number.’”

Three months later I graduated, and waiting for me at home were two perfect replica signs, hand-painted and weathered — including simulated roadside damage from BB guns — all done by dad. Rockefeller can keep his signs, because I have the original “Normans.”

It gave dad great pleasure to live vicariously through his children and grandchildren. So while of course dad was a gourmand, he was even satisfied to send us to great restaurants, even though he couldn’t even join us. Like the time that in advance of Wayne visiting me in Washington, D.C., dad secretly slipped me $200 so that we could eat at DC’s best restaurant, Jean-Louis, in the Watergate. In the dining room were Wayne and I, along with the French Ambassador and his entourage. Sorry Mom, for keeping that from you for so long.

While dad was excellent at so many different things, he was especially bad at one thing: singing. He would joke that when he sang our “National Anthem” at a ballgame, people would tell him to stop because he was being disrespectful.

But I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun than singing with him in the car during our adventure together in New Zealand and Australia. Stuck with only two cassette tapes, we belted out Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” repeatedly. Imagine what a thrill it was when, years later, dad and I went to see Jimmy Buffett live at Madison Square Garden together.

Dad was also a man of deep conviction and strong values, which he instilled in us, his children, and grandchildren.

When I was about to finish college, I wanted to work in politics. I called dad and explained that I planned to move directly to Washington after graduation. He noted the obvious: that I didn’t have a job, knew almost no one and didn’t have a place to live. He asked if I wanted to come back home.

I told him that I would do whatever it took to be in DC, and I would make it work.

His reply was typical of the constructive support he always offered: “That’s exactly the right attitude. You should move to DC.”

Dad’s legacy lives on through the many people he touched, his friends, his children and his grandchildren. He will always inspire me to stand up for important things, to try to talk through problems but also to hit back when necessary, to be loyal and to honor your word, to laugh often, to follow your passions and to put family first.

I would like to conclude with a poem by Henry van Dyke, called “Gone From My Sight”

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

We love you, dad.

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  1. Very nice collection of memories by those closest to Norm. Thank you PMP for publishing this.