For Cooke, a Lasting Memorial
By Peter Finn and Richard Justice
UPPERVILLE, Va., April 10 On a football-perfect day cold and clear under a pristine blue sky Washington bade farewell to Jack Kent Cooke today in a service whose solemnity was lightened by memories of the Redskins owner's cerebral saltiness.
Cooke's son, John, who paid tribute to his father before 400 invited mourners at a church here, announced that there would be one lasting memorial: The team will name its new stadium in Landover for Jack Kent Cooke. By doing so, the Redskins will sacrifice millions of dollars they would have received had they followed the lead of other professional sports teams and allowed a corporation to put its name on the stadium.
"He envisioned it a decade ago," said John Kent Cooke, the team's executive vice president. "It was his creation. It is his stadium and it will bear his name. Let this be the final tribute."
Jack Kent Cooke, 84, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack at his Northwest Washington home.
He was just months shy of seeing his beloved Redskins move into his self-financed, $175 million stadium, a grail he had pursued relentlessly and with some frustration over the past decade, as proposals in the District and Virginia fell through.
In a sense, today's gathering was Cooke's exclusive and much-watched box at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium writ large. Trinity Episcopal Church, in understated Upperville, held prominent figures from the political, media and sports worlds who orbited Cooke when he held court high above the gridiron on Sunday afternoons.
Among the guests were Virginia Gov. George Allen, former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, current coach Norv Turner, and an array of NFL owners including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants' Wellington Mara, Baltimore's Art Modell and Carolina's Jerry Richardson. Current Redskins at the service included Gus Frerotte, Sean Gilbert, Darrell Green, Ken Harvey, Ed Simmons, Joe Patton and Jamie Asher. Former Redskins attending included Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby, Art Monk and Mark May.
"You can judge a man by who attends his memorial service," said Harvey, a linebacker. "And yes, Jack Kent Cooke filled the house."
Mourners at the service said that the 45-minute ceremony was sprinkled with laughter and that speakers did not "gloss over the fact that Jack had his ways," as Wilder put it.
"I thought it was a very moving ceremony, and yet it was a very Jack Kent Cooke service, in that it didn't deal in excess: brief, to the point, and send them home," Wilder said.
The service began at 11 a.m. after guests had signed a mourning book in the courtyard of the sandstone church, which was modeled after 12th-century French country churches and built in 1960 by local resident and billionaire Paul Mellon.
Cooke's wife, Marlene Ramallo Cooke, sat in the front row and 9-year-old Jacqueline Kent Cooke, his daughter from the third of his five marriages, sat a couple of rows back.
A flute and string quartet played a slow movement from Mozart's "Diavertimento" as guests took their places. Flower arrangements of cherry blossom, white dogwood, white lillies and pink roses were placed at the altar and at the back and sides of the church. There was no casket or urn; Cooke was cremated earlier this week, and his family has not said where his ashes will be laid to rest.
After a processional and an opening hymn, "Morning Has Broken," former CIA director Richard Helms read from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 21, Verses 1 through 7.
Besides his son, Cooke was eulogized by three other speakers: his brother, Donald Cooke; one of his longtime attorneys, Milton Gould; and Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich.
John Kent Cooke remembered him as a father.
"He doted on me as a boy," the son said. "He trained me as a young man. He entrusted me with the daily operation of the essence of everything he savored, his Washington Redskins."
John Kent Cooke will bypass millions of dollars in potential earnings by declining to sell the naming rights to the new stadium.
Before he died, Jack Kent Cooke had spoken with several corporations, including Pepsi and Marriott, about the naming rights. The San Diego City Council recently sold the naming rights to Jack Murphy Stadium to Qualcomm for $18 million over 20 years; Ford will pay $40 million
Today, however, it was the soul of professional football that held sway.
Donald Cooke recalled how his brother once played quarterback in high school with a broken collarbone, and how he expected the same kind of pluck from his Redskins.
"Jack was dedicated to the Washington Redskins," Donald Cooke said. "Jack said, 'This is the thing I want to live and die with.' Unfortunately, it happened too soon."
His attorney spoke of his learning.
"He never enjoyed the luxury of a conventional formal education," Gould said. "But he was a man who by assiduous reading, through his devotion to literature, had become the quintessential successful gentleman, a man who could hold his own with the most cultivated companions.
"He was a man of many elements. I thought of the words of Marc Anthony: The elements were so mixed in him that nature would stand up and tell all the world: This was a man."
With a chuckle, Gould added that "I stood with him as his lawyer for 30 years, and he always told me what to say."
And Povich recalled Cooke's preeminence in establishing the hierarchies within Washington's celebrity culture.
Jack Kent Cooke "became something of a social arbiter among Washington celebrities because he commanded the owner's box at Redskins games, and invitations [signified] where you stood on a scale of celebrities in Washington," the longtime Post columnist said.
Paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson upon the death of a friend, Povich said, Cooke "will have successors. But he will not be replaced."
Cooke rose from door-to-door encyclopedia salesman during the Depression to become a business tycoon worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the jewel in his extensive holdings was the Redskins.
"He was dedicated to what the fans wanted, which is great excitement, great players, intensity, competition and winning," Tagliabue said.
A dominating but engaging personality who cut between arrogance and charm, condescension and empathy sometimes in the same encounter Cooke was one of Washington's great iconoclasts. As much a stickler for correct English usage as good playmaking, he was self-realized intellectually and self-made financially.
"He was so exacting in his use of language," Gibbs said. "I was just the opposite. I'll never forget the first time he handed me a book and I made the mistake of saying, 'Well, Mr. Cooke, I don't read much.' He goes, 'Oh God, John, did you hear that? He doesn't read.' There are things like that we all remember."
"There'll never be another like him," said Gov. Allen, whose father coached the Redskins during the 1970s. "He was a lion. He was the King of the Jungle. The jungle of sports. The jungle of business."
The working media, other than a pool reporter, were kept outside. But as guests filed out, some crossed the street to the church parking lot to talk.
"I'll never forget the first time I ever met him. It was the day that Paul Tagliabue became commissioner in the NFL," Cowboys owner Jones said. "I went by [Cooke's] box. I had my wife with me. And if I may say so, she is very attractive, and of course he didn't pay much attention to me. He was interested in my wife, Jeannie, but did it in a kidding way."
Besides Harvey, other players remembered Cooke fondly.
"Today showed me with all the people packed into this place how extraordinary of a person this guy was," cornerback Darrell Green said. And quarterback Gus Frerotte said the first game in the new stadium against the Arizona Cardinals in September will be special.
"There's going to be a lot of emotion," he said.
Added Dallas's Jones, "When we line up for 'Monday Night Football,' we'll say, 'Let's get it on for Mr. Jack Kent Cooke.' He would want it that way."
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.