Alexander Burns Cook of Cleveland, Ohio, passed away peacefully on January 23, 2024 at age 99.
Born on April 16, 1924 in Grand Rapids Michigan, Alex spent most of his youth in Saint Joseph, Michigan where the proximity of tugboats and steamers was the perfect playground for an adventurous boy. At an early age, Alex was taught to sail by his father and by his 14th birthday he and his father had purchased a 20’ sloop which they named Cattyhook.
Besides his love for the water, Saint Joseph also provided another important influence in the young man’s life. While in high school, Arthur Pornier, the celebrated syndicated cartoonist, hired Alex to do the lettering for his national comic strip, Jitters. Alex knew at that moment that art would dominate his life.
Alex enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1942 but his studies were postponed when he volunteered to serve in the United States Army.
Alex was assigned to the 3rd Engineers Special Brigade in New Guinea where his superiors recognized his artistic talent and assigned him to the company drawing landing maps. He was honorably discharged as a First Sergeant in 1945, earning the Good Conduct Medal and the Asia-Pacific Campaign Ribbon with two stars for his participation in New Guinea and the invasion of the Philippines.
Alex returned to Ohio Wesleyan University after his service to complete his degree in political science. During his time there, Alex was named the Top Ohio College Editorial Cartoonist in the State twice.
In 1949, Alex was hired by Paul Bellamy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer as an editorial cartoonist. While at the Plain Dealer, he developed four regular editorial cartoons; Buckeye Corner, Fellow Travelers, That’s Life, and Cap’n Scupper. The latter featured the day-to-day life of a Great Lakes ship captain.
After his time at the Plain Dealer, Alex left cartooning to become an executive at the Edward Howard Company, an early public relations firm in Cleveland. After his time there, Alex returned to school to earn his Master’s Degree in Art at Western Reserve University and went on to become an art teacher in the Cleveland Public Schools, from which he retired.
Throughout his long career, Alex spent his leisure time painting maritime scenes from across the Great Lakes. This passion was influenced by his long association with the Great Lakes Historical Society, starting with his volunteering with the organization in 1956. In 1959, he was elected to the Board of Trustees, and he later served as an officer and volunteer curator of the Society’s Museum in Vermilion, Ohio.
Alex’s oeuvre of marine paintings includes two murals, over two dozen ship portraits, and fifty-five watercolors of holiday maritime scenes used for the Great Lakes Historical Society’s annual holiday card. It also includes a collection of twenty-three watercolor illustrations that later became a children’s book—The Adventures of Kitty Smoke and Her Friends — which tells the story of a boy and his grandfather who find a derelict old steam tug and restore her to active duty.
Alex’s paintings and drawings graced the cover of two of Dwight Boyer’s books on Great Lakes history, as well as the literary publication, Ohioana. Alex never stopped painting and finished his final watercolor three weeks before he passed away.
Alex was an accomplished artist, sailor, teacher, and historian, but most importantly he was a dear friend to many who will never forget him.
Alex was preceded in death by his parents, Gorell and Harriet Cook; the love of his life, his Marigold, Marilyn (Bierschwal) who passed away in 2022; and numerous friends who lived on through his many stories.
A private memorial will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Alex wished donations be made to the National Museum of the Great Lakes which is owned and operated by The Great Lakes Historical Society, 1701 Front Street, Toledo, Ohio 43605, https://nmgl.org/donate/.