Prescott’s first black city councilman honored for achievements
Dick Cooper remembered for his service to community
Opponents, yes. Adversaries, no.
Former Prescott City Councilman Dick Cooper’s trademark cordiality in the face of opposition was highlighted this week when a group of local officials honored his service to the community.
Yavapai County Supervisor Rowle Simmons, a former political opponent of Cooper’s, led the presentation during the Tuesday, Feb. 26, Prescott City Council meeting.
As the first African-American member of the Prescott City Council, Cooper was recognized by the city and the State of Arizona as a part of February’s Black History Month.
Cooper served on the City Council from 1997 to 2001 before running unsuccessfully for Prescott mayor in 2001. He died in August 2016, at 85, after living in Prescott since his 1992 move after retirement.
Cooper was remembered this week for his kind and supportive demeanor, even as he broke down barriers.
Simmons summed up that essence by noting that even though he ran against Cooper in the highly contested mayoral race of 2001, the two remained cordial.
“In 2001, I had the honor of running for my first term as mayor, and I also had the honor of running against Dick Cooper,” Simmons said. “And it’s too bad elections aren’t like that today. Clean elections are something of the past, unfortunately.”
‘OPPONENTS, NOT ENEMIES’
During the 2001 election campaign, which featured controversy over development of the Prescott Gateway Mall, Simmons said, “Dick Cooper and I became friends during this, and it was a monumental time.”
Simmons won the election and went on to serve three two-year terms as mayor. He said Cooper joked about it later, telling Simmons, “You know, I won that election.” Simmons said he asked, “How’s that, Dick?” — To which Cooper replied, “Well, look at all the trouble you’ve got.”
Cooper’s widow Lula Cooper was on hand Tuesday for the city and state proclamations and said such a response was typical of her husband.
“You and Dick were opponents in that election, and for Dick, opponent did not mean enemy,” Lula Cooper told Simmons. “ ‘Opponent’ was what Dick loved, because he was — even though quiet — a highly competitive person.”
As a part of the proclamation, Simmons unveiled an honorary plaque that will be displayed in the lobby of Prescott City Hall. It lists not just Cooper’s accomplishments on the City Council, but also his work with other community organizations, as well as his long career as a leading chemist for the DuPont Corp.
“Dick was very low-key, but his accomplishments are phenomenal,” Simmons said.
He and Councilman Steve Blair, who served on the council alongside Cooper, lauded the former councilman for his community service efforts for organizations such as SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), the Adult Center of Prescott, the United Way, the Prescott Community Access Channel, and the Highland Museum of Natural History.
Lula Cooper noted that Dick was one of the first two African-American chemists hired by DuPont in the Wilmington, Delaware, area in the 1950s — in the face of resistance because of his race.
After earning a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, Cooper was unable to even fill out a job application with a number of major corporations, Lula said, and was offered the job at DuPont only after President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order prohibiting such discriminatory behavior.
Cooper ultimately worked his way up to Director of Environmental Affairs at DuPont over his 35 years there.
He also worked for civil rights in his typical low-key way. Lula Cooper told the Daily Courier in 2016 that even as she was participating in civil rights-era protests outside Delaware restaurants that refused to serve African-Americans, her husband was integrating the local Junior Chamber of Commerce, and working with the Fair Housing Council.
Prescott Mayor Mengarelli read a city proclamation honoring Cooper, which urges the community to honor Prescott’s diverse residents who are serving the community.
In recent months, Mengarelli said he heard from a number of community members about Cooper’s accomplishments. After meeting with Lula Cooper, Mengarelli said he reached out to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, which resulted in a state proclamation as well.
The state proclamation notes that Cooper attended Yale University on a full academic scholarship, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Later, he went on to earn his Ph.D. In organic chemistry from the University of Cincinnati.
The proclamation concluded that “It is fitting to remember and honor (Dick) John Cooper for his significant contributions to the Prescott community and the State of Arizona and for the remarkable life he lived.”
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