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  Now the Son, John, Will Come to the Fore

By Dave Sell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 1997; Page C6

When Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke died yesterday of congestive heart failure at George Washington University Hospital at 84, his only surviving son, John Kent Cooke Sr., was at his father's side, just as John has been for most of the past 30 years.

After decades of quietly and happily helping to run his father's professional teams and other enterprises from the shadows, John likely will inherit control of a family estate that Forbes magazine recently estimated to be worth $825 million, sources say. Documents signed by father and son say that as of Dec. 31, 1995, Jack owned 90 percent of the privately held Jack Kent Cooke Inc., and John owned 10 percent. John's title with the Redskins is executive vice president.

Assuming that Jack Kent Cooke's many lawyers have worked out an estate plan that allows John — and perhaps John's sons, John Jr. and Thomas — to keep the team without having to sell it to pay the hefty estate taxes, John, 55, will be thrust into the spotlight that shone on his father. It is not a familiar place for him.

"If I were around Jack — and I know Jack and love him very much — I'd be the same way," Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn said a few months ago. Hearn was a close friend of Jack Kent Cooke when Cooke owned the Lakers, founded the Kings hockey team and built the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. "It doesn't mean you're frightened of him. But it means you respect him."

Hearn added: "I think the experience John has had watching his father operate the Redskins and other teams will serve him in good stead as he takes over the situation. John has the capability, in my opinion, of doing anything required. He has a good knowledge of the game, a good knowledge of the league. He has the ability and the financial resources to keep it going at the same plateau Jack has."

John has his father's blue eyes, but not his imperious personality. Redskin Park employees know that for the past several seasons, it was John — not Jack — who was there daily. Jack worked from his Middleburg office or his home in the District, and he sent John to NFL meetings.

Still, until osteoarthritis put Jack in the hospital and then kept him at home last fall, Jack would attend practices, talking with the players, and John usually remained on the administrative side of Redskin Park. At games, John and his second wife, Rita, were almost always in Jack Cooke's box — one of the most sought-after seats in town — but either in another row or at the other end, outside the focus of TV cameras. Asked about John, one young player said, "He's the guy with the Jaguar, right?"

The differences in father and son didn't end there. Some people connected with the Redskins worried that John had not inherited his father's passion for winning.

But one Redskin Park employee familiar with both Cookes said that is no longer true.

"If you'd asked me a few years ago would John Cooke continue this business and be a part of it, I probably would have said, 'No, John will run the first chance he gets,' " the employee said. "But I've seen him the last several years, on a Monday after a loss, and he wasn't very easy to get along with. He's very aware that you've got to win football games in this business because it affects what he's trying to do on the business side when you don't win. Like his father, he will demand that we win. I was surprised that he came to that point, because I, too, didn't know if he would ever care that much. But I've seen him the last several years where it makes a great difference to him whether we win or lose."

Born in Toronto on Sept. 27, 1941, John went to a prominent prep school there. After one year at Waterloo College, John left for England to work as a director-producer trainee with Associated Television in London. He also worked as a TV producer in Hollywood and then at his father's cable TV company in Wisconsin before returning to Los Angeles. There John worked on the business side of the Lakers and Kings before moving here after his father sold those teams.

Living in Georgetown puts John Cooke — a member of the New York Yacht Club — closer to his 42-foot, fiberglass Cheoy Lee sailboat named Que2.

"My impression is that John is not a person that seeks the limelight, just based on the way he sails, because he's not real visible around the waterfront and not a lot of flash," said Cooke's friend Gary Jobson, the ESPN sailing analyst who met John Cooke through a mutual friend at the 1992 Super Bowl.

"John is a cruising sailor, an intense cruising sailor, who races occasionally. For them, it's smart to have a 42-footer because it's a boat he and Rita can handle without having a professional captain and sometimes they like being on their own."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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