By Henry Piarrot
Now that my race is run, my time of rest has just begun. I know my dreams will be of peace, for I am my Father’s son. Do not cry that I am gone, as I am in the home of song. There is no human pain or fear, so wipe away your loving tears. Celebrate our common years, the good we did together. I will wait for you right here my friend, then we will share forever.
I am sure I do not have to tell you that on Wednesday August 29, 2012, our Heavenly Father called our beloved Jack Cook home. As a result, Sevier County will forever be a different place than it was while he was here. But, I do not have to tell you that either. However, I do want to share with you the Jack Cook he courageously allowed me to see.
Child abuse is defined by the physical, emotional and or sexual exploitation a predator inflicts on an innocent child. Government studies reveal that 1 in every 20 American children are battered each year by at least one, and sometimes both of their parents.
The physical and psychological effects of the abuse can be especially extensive. Physical abuse among the very young can result in impaired brain development and cause a variety of other lasting health problems. Without a doubt, the psychological damage of parental cruelty far outlasts the actual occurrence. Low self-esteem and unbalanced emotions are too often the enduring legacy of child abuse.
Adults who were abused as children are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and drug addiction. They are also more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior and become abusers themselves. Then, there are those like Jack Cook. They are the fortunate few who emerge from their nightmare, determined to never be a victim again and do all they can to make sure others are protected from the nightmare they survived.
Born on September 21, 1944, Charles Wayne Cook was the product of an unwanted pregnancy. As a result, he was given to his mother‘s parents, John and Nannie Cooper shortly after his birth. A friend of his grandfather nicknamed him “Jackie,” after his own son who was killed during WWII. Young Jack, as he from then on preferred to be called, would be raised in his grandparents strict but loving home until Nannie’s tragic and untimely death in 1953. Unable to care for the nine year old boy alone, his grandfather soon returned him to his mother in Springfield, Ohio. He may have been old enough to understand his grandmother had gone to Heaven, but Jackie had no idea that he was actually on his way to Hell.
A desperate alcoholic, Jack’s stepfather made it clear upon arrival that he was still unwanted and that he would receive no food he did not work for. Consequently, before the end of the first day he was reunited with his Mother, the beatings began. For three long years, Jack was physically, mentally and sexually abused. His Mother was unable to help him, as she was also incapable of preventing her own beatings.
Although continuously being told he was worthless, Jack excelled academically and athletically. He desperately hoped that if he could demonstrate his worth, he would win the respect of his abuser and his circumstance would improve.
Nevertheless, Jack had an older stepbrother, who succeeded at nothing and that only enraged his stepfather more for his excelling at life outside the home. Consequently, this only made his personal demon more determined to keep him in his place.
One day, the athletic twelve year old decided he finally had enough of the beatings and like the real man he would soon become, took a baseball bat to his tormentor and escaped.
For the next two years, young Jack lived on the streets of Springfield. All night laundries, bowling allies and churches became his chosen residences. While continuing to attend school, he made money by mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow and setting pins for bowlers. Just before he turned fifteen, he was taken in by an aunt. Jack lived with her until he was seventeen and old enough to join the Navy where he was assigned to Naval Security and stationed in Japan.
Since his honorable discharge in 1965, Jack Cook has been a civil servant, worked in law enforcement, became successful entrepreneur and ultimately the heart and soul of his beloved Smoky Mountain Community.
A decade ago, the father of four grown children and his wife Mary established All-Star Advertising in Sevierville. Still, for all that he has achieved, Jack was proudest of the work he had done as a coach and mentor to children who have been, or are being abused. He always told them never to allow someone else to define you. Especially someone who is obviously mentally flawed.
Jack Cook was a real man. Like a benevolent sword, shaped by fire and the conatant pounding of an eight pound hammer, his passion was to save abused children until the heinous practice would become a fatality of history.
Now it is not enough for us to simply be sad because we will no longer see our dear friend and inspiration. It is now our responsibility to pick up the sword Jack Cook refused to lay down. We can be true to his friendship and manhood by doing all we can to insure every child in Sevier County is safe from the kind of monster for which young Jackie refused to submit.
God bless you my friend. I will never forget your generous counsel and your strength. Sevier County will never forget you as well and for many years, will search for the man to replace your Godly, masculine leadership.
“We acquire the strength we have overcome.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident and GM of the Comfort Inn University in Hattiesburg, MS. Please send all story recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org