Eldridge N. Cook worked hard because he knew no other way, he gave back to his community contributing his time, sound business knowledge, and personal resources, because he believed this was the right thing to do. He loved and supported both family and friends because of his strong Christian faith. Mr. Cook, an extremely modest man despite his tremendous lifelong accomplishments and who was noted for his soft-spoken manner, quietly left us for eternal life Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, at the age of 98.
Eldridge Cook, affectionately known as “El” and the grandson of former slaves, was born on Feb. 14, 1915 in Philadelphia, Pa., to the late James C. Cook and late Florence Armstrong Cook.
Subsequent to his mother’s death, at age nine he moved to Gloucester County where he was raised by his grandparents. Mr. Cook was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Jim Cook, a local merchant, and mentored during his youth by Thomas C. Walker, the first African-American attorney in Gloucester. Through these experiences his savvy work ethic was ingrained. At age 17, Mr. Cook completed his secondary education in Gloucester County and planned to enter the oil business; however, another market beckoned; he purchased his first truck and began transporting fresh Chesapeake Bay seafood across the East Coast. Through his dedication to overcome the obstacles perceived for minorities and growing business acumen, he acquired a fleet of trucks. He expanded his hauling routes across the United States to the West Coast, and through the East Coast ports overseas to Europe and Turkey. Mr. Cook utilized his fleet of trucks during World War II to transport lumber and timber. In 1950, Eldridge Cook officially started Cook’s Oyster Company, Inc.; shortly thereafter he opened Cook’s Seafood Company, a leading national seafood processing plant and supplier employing over 250 people in Gloucester County. After operating the plant for over 70 years, Mr. Cook closed his seafood company in 2010. However, Mr. Cook continued his entrepreneurship operating Tri County Storage which he established in 1997.
Eldridge Cook was also a prominent civic leader within Gloucester County and across the state. Mr. Cook was a member of the Gloucester County Board of Social Services from 1971-1979, serving two terms each as the Board’s Chairman and Vice-Chairman; he was a member of the Gloucester Planning Commission from 1979-1997. In 1996 the Daily Press newspaper recognized Mr. Cook as one of the top 100 community leaders in Hampton Roads. He was twice appointed to serve on the Virginia Marine Products Board, in 1999 by Governor L. Douglas Wilder and in 2002 by Governor Mark Warner. In 2010, Mr. Cook contributed funds to the Gloucester Community Foundation establishing the Eldridge N. Cook Charitable Fund designed to inspire youth and support them in reaching their potential. In January 2011 the Virginia General Assembly approved a joint house resolution commending Eldridge N. Cook for his lifelong contributions to Virginia’s seafood industry, the economic development of Gloucester and his community noting him as “an inspiration to every Virginian, irrespective of race or color.”
Mr. Cook was a member of Berea Masonic Lodge. Mr. Cook’s family was among the founding members of First Morning Star Baptist Church in Bena, Va., where he worshipped faithfully. At First Morning Star, Mr. Cook served on the Board of Trustees, acting as the Board’s Chairman for a term; he served on the church’s Constitution Committee and was a Sunday school teacher for many years. Mr. Cook also served on the parent organization for the Southside Virginia Training School in Petersburg, Va.
Mr. Cook was preceded in death by his loving wife of 50 years, Velma Bell Cook, and his son, Eldridge Jr.
He is survived by his devoted family, sister, Betty Jennings (Eugene); cousins, William Cooke (Janie), Lorraine Driver-Christian, Godson Gary Cook; nephews, George Cook, Jeffrey Richardson (Wanda); niece, Toni Canfield; his dutiful caretakers, Mrs. Luvenia Fleshman, Mr. Floyd Fleshman, Mr. Victor M. Howard, Ms. Joyce Braxton, Rev. Ward Warren, Mrs. Cleo Warren, and Ms. Ada Jackson. Additionally, Mr. Cook leaves a host of extended relatives and friends who will cherish his memory and vast contributions to the community.
Eldridge Cook’s life has reflected extraordinary accomplishments and commitment to his fellow man.
A graveside service will be held at Rosewell Memorial Gardens located in Gloucester, Va., Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests expressions of sympathy in the form of donations to the First Morning Star Baptist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 159, Bena, Va. 23018.
A guestbook is available at www.carterfuneralhomes.com