On Monday night, October 24, 2011, Dr. Cortez Cooper, minister of the gospel and passionate St. Louis Cardinals fan, spoke his last words on earth—blasting the umpires for a bad call in the fifth game of the World Series, before suffering a massive heart attack.
The Cardinals lost game five, but went on to a stunning victory in the series four days later. Though “Corty” Cooper ceased to breathe that Monday night, his “loss,” also, was only momentary—the end of life on this earth, but a stepping-stone into the presence of the Savior he loved and served.
Ironically, many years earlier the Cardinals had offered Cooper, then a young high school graduate, a slot on their roster. But education was more important to a young man who already had his sights set on gospel ministry. Cooper graduated from Davidson College and served in the military before studying at Columbia Theological Seminary and being ordained as a teaching elder. Equally important in his formation as a pastor was the practical, spiritual, and personal influence of his father-in-law, the Reverend Preston Sartelle.
Over the course of his 50-year ministry Cooper along with his wife, Pat, served churches in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, California, and Alabama. Cooper was known as a champion for the truth, an outstanding athlete (proficient in baseball, tennis, and golf), a competent scholar, a gifted administrator, and the ultimate “people person”—never forgetting a name or a face.
Multiple memorial services were held last week. On Saturday, October 29, friends and family gathered for his burial at Draper’s Valley Presbyterian Church, in western Virginia, where he and Pat were married 56 years earlier. Following a family burial service, led by Cooper’s brother-in-law, the Reverend John Sartelle, approximately 200 people (including numerous pastors) attended a formal worship service. Fittingly, the participants were family members. Brothers-in-law, the Reverends John P. Sartelle, Preston Sartelle, Jr., and Calvin Jett, were joined by the Reverend Robert Davis, current pastor of Draper’s Valley Church, who led in prayer. John Sartelle anchored the service with Scripture from John 11, and Job 19. Preston Sartelle followed with the biblical comfort and command, “Do not fear.” Calvin Jett focused on the gospel, pointing the congregation to the truth that “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been made manifested through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
“The service was God honoring, Christ centered, and gospel clear,” reported one attendee. While Cooper’s life was celebrated, his gifts were praised, and his legacy honored, attention was drawn not to the man, but to the gospel he loved and preached. Many remained afterward for an informal luncheon, hosted by the ladies of Draper’s Valley, where the demeanor of the crowd was “joyful, yet sober,” with mutual comfort and encouragement evident throughout the event.