Tributes paid to Surrey Chapel visionary
2011: Tributes have been paid to Gordon Cooper, war veteran and member of Surrey Chapel, Norwich whose legacy to the church included the children's holiday club and seniors' group. Gordon died on August 8 aged 87.
If you ask anyone in Surrey Chapel to name the most important of the church’s ministries, the annual children’s Holiday Club and the vibrant Seniors group would probably be on their list. Each of these key activities, one for the youngsters and one for the oldsters, was the result of Gordon Cooper’s vision and his initiative, and got established in the life of the church because of his personal determination and drive. They are part of Gordon’s legacy to his church.
Gordon was born in Korea, the son of Salvation Army missionaries, in a town called Kaisong, on the 38th parallel, which later became the dividing line between North and South Korea. His childhood in Korea was colourful, at times dangerous and somewhat chaotic. His family returned to England when he was 11, where his already patchy education was further disrupted by moving from one school to another - and then, of course, by the outbreak of war. Gordon confessed that he felt at times very bitter that, while his parents had chosen to make sacrifices to serve God, he had suffered as a consequence, missing out on the chance for a proper education and qualifications. In his heart he turned away from the Christian faith that was central to his parents’ lives.
When he was old enough to be called up for military service, the opportunity to get away and join the Royal Navy for the final years of the war was something he jumped at. He joined a small aircraft carrier escorting convoys across the German U-boat zone in the mid-Atlantic. Later, while the war with Japan continued, he was a sailor on a troop ship to the Far East – although the war was actually over before he got there, and he finished up living for 9 months in Sydney, Australia, before joining a naval cruiser heading for New Zealand.
Until quite recently Gordon’s memories of these times were incredibly vivid. When he was able to, he would love to show you photographs of his exploits in the Navy. His second favourite book was an atlas, in which he would trace in incredible detail his naval journeys around the world. Later, reflecting on the first 20 or so years of his life, Gordon would see the Lord’s hand in protecting him not only from physical danger but also from temptations that would lead him even further away from God than he was already.
After leaving the Navy he moved to London to work in His Majesty’s Stationery Office. This was the start of an outstanding career as an exemplary civil servant. But it was also to be a key point in Gordon’s spiritual life. This is from his own written testimony: “I started attending a Baptist church near my digs, simply so that I could write home and say that I had been to church. But I started thinking about God and my upbringing, and found myself saying ‘God, if I have proof of your existence and of Jesus, I will believe!’ One night I tossed and turned until 3am thinking about this. Then it suddenly came to me, that if I believed in faith, then the proof would follow. So there and then I got out of bed and on my knees committed myself to the Lord in faith.” From then on, the central focus of Gordon’s life was his Christian faith, his love for the Lord Jesus and his desire to serve his Lord.
He was baptised as a believer, got more involved with the Baptist Church, met Hazel and fell in love, and married her in 1950 on 11 November, Armistice Day: clearly they were destined for a peaceful marriage! His work for the HMSO resulted in them moving to various locations in the UK, with the final move in 1968 to Norwich to work in the soon-to-be-demolished HMSO building in Anglia Square.
Gordon’s attention to detail, the care and thoroughness that characterised his approach to everything, and his willingness to work hard and conscientiously, meant that he was quickly promoted within the HMSO. In London, he had responsibility for the publication of government stationery, cabinet minutes, Hansard, and even for the release of the Queen’s New Year’s Honour’s list to the press. He rose to hold such positions as head of training and deputy director of personnel.
Someone like Gordon is literally a God-send to a church, as Pastor David Middleton soon recognised when the Coopers joined Surrey Chapel, back in the original building in Chapel Loke, off Surrey Street. Churches are never short of people who will tell you what the church ought to be doing. Gordon was the exception who would add, ‘and I’ll do it!’ And the Lord had equipped Gordon with a range of gifts that he was willing to put to use in the Lord’s service within the church. Very soon after he joined the church he was leading the Sunday School team. In 1970 Gordon got together a team to start up the annual Holiday Club that still runs today.
Within a few years Gordon had taken up the office of Church Secretary. This was a post in which he would serve faithfully and efficiently for some 15 years.
After he had retired from the HMSO, he recognised the need for the church to offer a social group for the growing number of active and alert older people. And, characteristically, he said, ‘and I’ll do it!’ And sure enough he and Hazel got it going and ran it for some years. This group met a real need and has been hugely appreciated by those who go along to it. Gordon made the group fun and interesting for those who came along. Probably the peak of his organisational achievements was the annual Surrey Seniors holiday, an amazing experience, combining times of serious Bible Study and Christian fellowship with times of great hilarity.
Gordon was a committed blood donor, giving his blood twice a year, and receiving a gold medal for achieving a total of 65 donations. He supported students from Korea. He was for a while an active member of the Gideons. When he contracted Parkinson’s 12 years ago, his response was to get very involved with the local Parkinson’s society – until the last few years when that awful illness took him out of circulation.
Gordon was a devoted and loyal husband to Hazel and they were a great partnership for 60 years together, their lives always governed by their shared faith. The last home they shared, in Thorpe End, he named Cobblestones. The first part, Cob, was Hazel’s maiden name. And the rest of the name spells out how they saw themselves: blest ones.
Although, perhaps, the ‘blest ones’ are actually all of those, Gordon’s family, his friends, his colleagues and his church, who have been blessed to have shared something of his life.
Gordon is survived by his wife, Hazel, his two children, Daphne and Bob, and three grandchildren.
30 December 1924 – 8 August 2011
Church Secretary, Surrey Chapel Free Church, Norwich, from 1974 to 1989