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Richard William Cooper
January 24, 1937 ~ August 5, 2023 (age 86) 86 Years Old
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Richard William Cooper aged 86 flew west from the Sonoma Valley with family by his side on August 5, 2023. The cause of death was Parkinson’s disease. Born in Goshen, NY, on January 24, 1937 to Julia Gurda and Gary Cooper, he was the oldest of four children. At the age of 12 his mother passed away and his father was in the TB sanitarium. He was raised by his Uncle on the farm in Pine Island, NY.
As a young man he attended Parks College in St Louis, and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. The greatest adventure of his life began when he joined the U.S.Navy and flew E1 sub-hunters off aircraft carriers. This precision flying honed his piloting skills and he became a part of history participating in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
His Airline pilot career began at Pan American World Airways where he spent most of his career flying the Boeing 747 around the world. It was here in 1968 he met his wife Nelleke on a Boeing 707 somewhere above the Pacific. They married in 1970 and moved to Diamond A into the home they had built together.
In 1987 he became a Captain for United Airlines after Pan Am sold the Pacific Division.
His leadership and dedication to aviation and family extended to community. The Diamond A Recreational center community can thank Richard’s best friend Wayne Schake who persuaded Richard into being the President for many years. The two of them made quite a team and one never really knew who was in charge. In springtime when you walk the path around the Recreation Center and you see beautiful daffodils blooming think of all their contributions.
Richard loved all aspects of aviation. He flew one of the first hot air balloons in the Sonoma Valley in the 1980’s. He promoted interest in aviation careers for young people and became actively involved at Sonoma Skypark Airport on 8th St E. In addition, he was the Young Eagles Coordinator for many years and flew over 55 Young Eagles to inspire them to reach for the skies. Flying small airplanes and going to air shows with his wife, family, and friends was one of his favorite activities.
Richard enjoyed his many friends and loved taking his wife Nelleke along on his on trips. His many interests included playing tennis, working in the yard and growing flowers, hunting wild pigs with his brother-in-law and son, water skiing at Lake Berryessa, flying little airplanes, enjoying their home and beautiful view, reading, especially about history, investing and science. Richard was curious and loved learning and thinking. Later in life he wrote his Memoirs Dancing on a Tightrope recalling his most memorable experiences.
On a personal level, Richard liked to have a good laugh, appreciated witty humor, and would really be present with a person when he spoke with them. Though he was not a talkative person, he was a very social person, had many friends, and was well-loved by many.
He is survived by his wife Nelleke, daughter Kirstin and granddaughter Haley, son Kyle and his wife Sarah, grandchildren, Wyatt and Sierra Cooper and his sister, Virgina Baker. He is preceded in death by his sister Marie Giveans.
If you have any tall tales of the 6’4” man and would like to celebrate his life with us please join us at the memorial service in honor of Captain Richard Cooper on September 8th at 10:30 a.m. at Sonoma Veterans Cemetery, 126 First St W, Sonoma, followed by a Celebration of his life at 11:30 a.m.at the Diamond A Recreation Center, 18843 Spring Drive, Sonoma.
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to EAA 1268, 1021 Stonebridge Drive, Napa, CA 94558 in order to continue his legacy of making a positive impact on the lives of young people as they work towards aviation careers.