Robert E. Cooke


Robert E. Cooke, M.D., of Oak Bluffs died on Sunday, February 2, 2014, at the age of 93.

As medical advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, he was an architect of the War on Poverty program, Head Start; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH; the Rehabilitation Act of 1963; the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, the world-renowned institution for children with developmental problems at Johns Hopkins University.

He served National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research from 1974 to 78, and during the Clinton administration, he worked with the Social Security Administration, successfully restoring significant benefits for the disabled.  Robert earned his B.S. and M.D. at Yale University in 1941 and 1944, respectively, and served in the U.S. Army Medical corps during his internship and residency years at Yale New Haven Hospital, 1944-1949. Later, he served on the faculty of Yale Medical School from 1950 to 56;  as Pediatrician-in-Chief of the  Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, 1956-1973;  as Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1973-1977; briefly as the president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania; and, as Chief of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, 1982-1988.

For many years Cooke was associated with the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and Special Olympics International, as their medical director and advisor to Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Dr. Cooke received the Howland and Bartholome Awards, two of the American Pediatric Society’s highest accolades in pediatrics and bioethics; the Kennedy Achievement Award; the Surgeon General Award; and honorary degrees from Yale University and the University of Miami.  He has been described as a mentor to “a generation of leaders in American pediatrics.”

Robert became a champion for the disadvantaged when he was faced with raising two profoundly disabled daughters, Robyn and Wendy.  This challenge shaped his life’s work. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Sharon Riley Cooke, his children, Christopher, W. Robert (Denise), Kim Cooke Himmelfarb, Susan Cooke Anderson (Christopher), and Anne (Daniel Ennis); his grandchildren, Katherine and Brittany; his niece, Heidi Shusterman (Robert); and his dogs Vernon, Miles, and Rocky.  He was preceded in death by his daughters Wendy and Robyn, and his parents, Ronald M. and Renee Cooke, and his brother, Ronald W. Cooke, M.D.  Donations in Dr. Robert E. Cooke’s memory may be sent to:  Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, PO Box 1829, Edgartown, MA 02539—memo Susie Fund; or Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, PO Box 1748,  Vineyard Haven MA 02568.