Willie Curtis Cooper, Sr. ascended to his heavenly home on Saturday, October 24, 2020, after a long decline. Willie was born on January 11, 1934 to the late Roger and Annie Cooper in Littleton, Virginia, the youngest of 13 children.
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At the age of six, Willie and his family moved to Waverly, Virginia, where he met his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Goode. In 1953, Willie graduated from the Sussex County Training School and attended North Carolina A & T on a football scholarship. After one year, he enlisted in the United States Air Force to serve his country and continue his studies.
In 1954, Willie and Barbara married in Stanford, Connecticut, and the following year, he was stationed in Itazuke, Japan. There, their first child Desiree was born in 1960. Their son, Willie, Jr., was born the following year in San Antonio, Texas.
During his 20-year service, Willie served temporary duty in Germany, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. In 1966, he served for one year in Thailand, working on F4-C Phantom jets during the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged in 1974, and retired to Chesapeake, Virginia.
Willie was a lifelong learner. He graduated from St. Mary’s College with an undergraduate degree in History and Political Science in 1965. Before the age of 45, he had also earned his master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Maryland, a certification at Old Dominion University in special education, and would eventually complete all but his thesis for a PhD in urban services from Old Dominion University.
In 1975, he began a 14-year career at the Southeastern Virginia Training Center, a state residential facility for developmentally disabled adults. He became a prominent member of the local NAACP (he was a life member), In 1979, he became the co-founder and president of Chesapeake Forward, and in 2005 he became treasurer of Chesapeake Men for Progress. His work helped integrate city government and facilitated the election in 1980 of Chesapeake’s first (and only) black mayor, William “Bill” Ward. Willie appeared before the city council on numerous occasions, addressing issues ranging from access to city services, police brutality and discrimination against black public school teachers. He was also deeply involved in church activities.
One of his proudest achievements was co-founding the Cooper Family Reunion with his closest brother, Wilbert Cooper. The reunion evolved from a 1971 backyard picnic in their hometown of Waverly to a highly structured weekend family retreat in cities from Detroit to New Orleans, with committee meetings, awards, scholarships, banquets, sightseeing, and worship services. The tradition has survived more than 40 years.
In 1986, Willie became a small business owner when he took over Quality Sales, a used car lot in Norfolk, Virginia after his brother-in-law’s untimely death. He loved running a small business and being his own boss. He operated the business, and later leased it, for more than 30 years.
In 2012, Willie joined Mt. Zion Interdenominational Christian Community Church in Norfolk, Virginia. The church became the center of his life, serving the church at all levels: Tithing faithfully, maintaining the church grounds, and even building a storage outbuilding by himself. He became a deacon on January 29, 2014.
Willie is survived by his wife of 66 years and childhood sweetheart, Barbara; his daughter Desiree Cooper; his son, Willie Cooper, Jr. and his daughter-in-law Maria; his grandson Melvin (Jay) Hollowell, III; his granddaughter Desiree Montgomery and his son-in-law Adrian Montgomery; his three great-grandchildren, Jackson Montgomery, Aaliyah Montgomery and Jordan Montgomery; a host of nieces and nephews, and his beloved Yorkie and sidekick, Paris.