Former City Councilor George Cook dies at 85

Former City Councilor George Cook dies at 85
George Cook with his wife of 61 years, Lou Cook. (Courtesy photo)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Former Alexandria City Councilor Albert George Cook III, who also served as president of Colonial Parking, died of acute kidney failure at Goodwin House Alexandria on Dec. 16. He was 85.

Cook was born on Sept. 28, 1933 in Annapolis, Maryland to Navy Captain Albert George Cook Jr. and Harriet Graham Scales Cook.

Unable to follow the path of service taken by his father, grandfather and uncles to the U.S. Naval Academy due to a birth injury to his foot, Cook had to find another path. He worked as a forest ranger, where he established a lifelong passion for the outdoors and horseback riding before he moved to Washington D.C. with the intention of entering the foreign service or law school.

Cook on one of his annual pack trips out west.

Cook ended up staying in the area for 63 years, serving the public in a different – but important – capacity as both a businessman and politician.

Cook attended George Washington University where, in 1956, while still an undergraduate journalism student, he began working part-time for Colonial Parking, a parking company that services businesses throughout the D.C. metro area. What started out as a job painting stripes in parking lots became a full-time career, and when Cook retired from the company in 1993, he did so as president and chief executive officer.

At Colonial Parking, Cook displayed values that would come to define him as a politician and person throughout his life.

“He really just put his nose to the grindstone and said that if you were working as hard as you can for the right cause, that’s all you can do,” Cook’s daughter Katherine Cook said.

Also in 1956, Cook went on a blind date with a fellow G.W. student, Marylou Bernard. The next year, on June 1, 1957, they got married.

The couple settled in Alexandria and, in 1963, Cook launched his career in politics by supporting political and legal efforts to end the poll tax in Alexandria. Cook was already establishing a legacy of community-focused politicking.

In 1969, Cook won a city council special election and helped run a successful gubernatorial campaign for Linwood Holton (R-Va). In 1970, Cook was elected to serve a full term on city council and, after opting not to run for re-election in 1973, was re-appointed to council in 1975 to fill a vacancy.

Cook (left) with former Virginia Governor Linwood Holton (R-Va.) (right). (Courtesy photo)

Cook joined the Alexandria City Council at a time of great upheaval. Alexandria was struggling to leave behind a segregated past for a diverse, accepting future and entering into a period of rapid development. During his time on city council, Alexandria addressed school integration, developed Market Square, Tavern Square and Bankers Square along King Street and broke ground on the Washington metropolitan area’s fledgling Metro system.

Cook served on what is still referred to as the “Dream Council,” with three Republicans, including Cook, and four Democrats. Cook’s passion for the people of Alexandria and his constant desire to bring them together helped the council succeed.

“More than anything else, his politics were about finding consensus, finding a middle ground, negotiating consensus,” David Speck, a former city council member who Cook mentored, said. “He was a master at bringing people together.”

Cook was a true retail politician. Those who knew him said he used his extroverted personality and social intelligence to get things done, and that he took the time to talk to people in order to understand their problems and how he could address them.

“His big gifts were always being positive, always listening and his patience,” Katherine Cook said.

Cook also served on the first Board of Visitors at George Mason University, where, in 1994, he later taught public policy to graduate students. He sat on more than 10 boards that ranged from the Girl Scouts to the National Parking Association.

Despite the condition of his foot, Cook remained an avid outdoorsman and horseback rider. For more than 25 years, drawn by the spiritual grandeur of the West, Cook and his friends took annual, two-week pack trips. Cook never let his pain get in the way of enjoying life.

Cook campaigning with kids Will (left) and Katherine (right) Cook. (Courtesy photo)

“The thing I think I admired the most about George was his incredible physical and emotional courage,” Richard Nash, a friend of Cook’s who went on the yearly pack trips, said. “It was something to watch him on a horse. To watch him overcome that pain was truly amazing.”

Despite his wide-ranging interests, Cook’s passion remained focused primarily on his family.

Cook is survived by his wife of 61 years, Lou Cook, daughters Katherine Bennett Cook of Alexandria and Kelly Adair Cook of West Hartford, Connecticut, sons Albert George Cook IV and William Bernard Cook, both of Alexandria, and seven grandchildren now living in Denver, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Alexandria.