I’ve never been much for regrets, but after the passing of my friend Bob Cooper of Bruce, Miss., one is unshakable.
Bob and his longtime friend, the late Bird Patterson, also of Bruce, traveled annually to Hot Springs for the Arkansas Derby.
The 80-year-old race is held at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs every April and features a lineup of strong three-year-olds. American Pharaoh led the ticket last year prior to his Triple Crown victory.
It was a trip Bob looked forward to every year and came home with great stories of the fun time they had. Several years ago, Bob started inviting me to join him and Bird on the annual trip, with the stipulation I would have to drive, of course. I understood what that meant and certainly didn’t mind.
For whatever reason, I always seemed to have a conflict, and year-after-year had to turn down the invite. Then in 2011, Bird passed away. Bob was heartbroken, but I agreed to join him for the next trip to keep it alive in honor of Bird.
The following years were instead followed by more heartbreak for my friend. His wife Linda, the love of his life, was stricken with cancer and ultimately died in May of 2014. Bob’s heart was exponentially broken. He would then suffer a stroke himself and later be diagnosed with cancer, too. During one of our visits on his back patio, he admitted nothing was the same anymore without Linda.
Bob served his community well as a lawyer, both publicly and privately. He took pride in his lineage with the law from his grandfather, Jesse Yancy Sr., a former sheriff of Calhoun County; his uncle Jesse Yancy Jr., a local lawyer in Bruce who also served as district attorney and state senator; and his step-father Cliff Easley Jr. with whom he practiced law for more than 30 years.
He once shared with me a story of something he witnessed when he was 12-years-old that cemented his desire to pursue a career in law.
“A black male, who had been severely beaten, came in to visit Cliff. He had reportedly been beaten by a white man for being ‘disrespectful’ in an area business. I knew the man and couldn’t imagine how he could have been disrespectful. It had an impact on me. I knew it was wrong and wanted to do something.”
Bob “did something” by spending much of his law career helping people from all walks of life with a variety of problems. Sometimes he got paid for the jobs, many he took knowing he never would.
Bob’s mission was always to help anyone he could. He believed everyone deserved an opportunity and worked to provide one wherever possible. His concern for local youth led him to become Youth Court Judge for the county where for two decades he went the extra mile for many.
He continued his civic mission in the Bruce Rotary Club where he sat directly across from me at “The Bad Table” for the past 17 years. We talked about everything under the sun at our table, and spent an awful lot of time laughing.
Last week, sitting at his bedside in a hospital room in Pontotoc, we tried to laugh, but it didn’t come easy. We noted we missed another Arkansas Derby. Neither of us knew who won, nor did we care. Cancer had overwhelmed Bob’s body. He knew the end was near and had come to terms with it. I hadn’t. Good friends are hard to come by.
Bob passed away Tuesday afternoon. I appreciate his suffering is over, but selfishly, I miss my friend. I’m saddened by the thought of the empty chair at “The Bad Table,” not being able to visit him in his dark, cave-like office, and the loss of those patio discussions. I regret never getting to make that drive to Hot Springs with Bob and Bird and watch the ponies run on a warm spring day.