J.W. (Bill) Cooke
Hall of Fame Class of 2019
Bill Cooke grew up in the print shop of his family newspaper, The Rockdale Reporter. His father, W.H. Cooke, was the son of John Esten Cooke, who bought the newspaper in 1911 and ran it until he was named postmaster in 1936. W.H. Cooke stepped into the publisher's post and held it until his death in 1991.
When Bill Cooke was in high school, his father broke the story that the Aluminum Company of America, Alcoa, planned to build a smelter near Rockdale that would employ 1,500 workers and double the city's population.
After a year at Southwestern University, Cooke transferred to then-North Texas State College in Denton, now the University of North Texas, to major in journalism.
He compiled a "string book" as a sophomore, was elevated to sports editor as a junior, joined the college news service as a senior, and wrote hometown news releases and worked with the sports information director. Cooke received the Outstanding Senior Journalism Student Award in 1958.
Cooke married Peggy Sue Adams on Dec. 21, 1957. Out of their 61-year union came four children: Kathy Lu Cooke Martin, who died in 2017 and was publisher of The Reporter; Kyle Cooke, who works for Castle Biosciences in Clear Lake; Ken Esten Cooke, publisher of the Fredericksburg Standard and Radio Post and now co-publisher of The Rockdale Reporter with wife Christine; and Kevin Adams Cooke, an importer of arts and crafts from Mexico, who died in 2008.
Cooke credits his wife, Peggy, with being "the world's greatest proofreader" during his more than six decades as a newspaper editor and publisher.
Cooke's career with The Reporter, not counting his work during high school and summers while he was enrolled in college, began Jan. 1, 1959, as news editor. While responsible for general news and sports, Cooke redesigned the newspaper and departmentalized the operation, emphasizing hard news and human-interest features, complemented by coverage of school news, sports and lots of local names. This concentration on highlighting the lives and activities of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and especially children "” in athletics, organizations, band and Future Farmers of America "” doubled the newspaper's average page count.
In 1973, Cooke converted The Reporter "from the hot, inky letterpress production era" to offset printing, a change that resulted in sharper photos, improved page design and more attractive advertising. The Reporter drew the accolades of its peers in contests, winning many awards in news writing, editorials, column writing, headline writing, page design and sports coverage in South Texas Press Association and Texas Press Association newspaper contests.
In serving his community, Cooke has been a lifelong member of St. John's United Methodist Church. He and his wife founded the Rockdale Tennis Association. He was elected president of the Rockdale Chamber of Commerce at age 28, served on three industrial foundations and was a member of the Rockdale Rotary Club. He has been the unofficial publicity chair for too many organizations to list. It all goes with the territory, Cooke says. "Small towns run on volunteerism and public recognition in the newspaper is the only thing those jobs pay," he said.