Gerald Lawrence Cooper: Autodidact. Folksinger. Entrepreneur. Irreverent. Born June 22, 1934, in Montreal; died June 3, 2020, in Toronto, of prostate cancer; aged 85.
“Jerry” inspired others with his kindness, loyalty, humour and appreciation for the absurd.
Born in Montreal to immigrant parents, “Yossel” spoke Yiddish first. His first date with his soulmate, Jocelyn Dlusy, was in high school. He was quite shy and Jocelyn waited patiently for him to hold her hand at the movie. Later, Jocelyn promised to kiss him in public if he could get five strikes in a row during their date at a bowling alley – quite a bold move in 1951.
Jerry played clarinet in the Baron Byng High School band and in the Montreal Junior Symphony. He later taught himself guitar, banjo, mandolin and piano. Jerry and Jocelyn would make music together for nearly 66 years in four languages, much of it songs they wrote to music he composed. In later years, they even had their own YouTube channel.
By 26, Jerry was a father to Stephen, Brian and Shari. He could be a somewhat strict parent, but the family was always his focus. He encouraged Jocelyn to paint and write, and his gift-giving was thoughtful: no jewellery but a set of Oxford dictionaries and her (beloved) autoharp.
While studying for his CA at McGill in his late teens, Jerry honed his billiard skills in the Montreal Pool Room, playing with legends such as Leo Levitt. For much of his life he preferred to play three-cushion billiards – a very difficult game! Jerry was also an expert bridge player – a Life Master. When Stephen was 12, Jerry taught a group of his son’s friends to play, then entered them into a tournament. All became lifelong players.
Jerry ran several businesses, often closing deals on a handshake. Once, when a client was going bankrupt, Jocelyn asked her husband about the money that was owed him. Had he asked for it? No, Jerry said, because “that would have jeopardized our relationship.”
The highlight of Jerry’s career was when he and his business partners developed Rapatax, a pre-PC, computerized income-tax service for accountants. Its success was featured as a case study in a 1980 business textbook. Every tax season, Jerry hired his children’s friends to collate and package tax returns. For most, it was their first job, working long hours in the office, with late-night pizza or Chinese food and a great sense of camaraderie.
In 1975, a little-known Steve Wozniak appeared in his office and offered him the Canada-wide Apple franchise. As Jerry told it, had he been able to find an extra $5,000, life would have been different. Instead, he was left with something that he valued much more – a story that he could retell forever.
In his early 50s, Jerry realized he was working “just to pay the mortgage,” so he and Jocelyn retired and moved to a cottage on Lake Chemong in Peterborough, Ont. They travelled, and spent winters at their home in Florida, where a never-ending parade of friends and family were welcomed.
Jerry loved a good argument and was always ready to make others uncomfortable with their long-held positions. He believed that even when the majority disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong. He also acted on his principles, when Quebec’s premier ruled that only French could appear on signs, Jerry fought back by helping found Quebec’s Equality Party in 1989.
He read non-fiction, science fiction and anything by his favourite atheists. Jerry was an avid sailor, golfer, writer and philosopher, and he always kept a toonie in his car to give the man at the corner. Jerry referred to him as his “assistant cardiologist” because he always told Jerry that he had a good heart.
Stephen and Brian Cooper are Jerry’s sons; Jocelyn Cooper is his wife; Shari Friedman is his daughter.
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