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Norton mourns loss of police veteran

December 28, 2012 | Virginia News

News Image “Roger Cooke was one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Norton Police Chief James Lane said yesterday of his longtime friend and colleague, who died unexpectedly on Christmas Day.

Cooke, 62, the police department’s assistant chief and lead investigator, was killed at home in what authorities believe was an accidental discharge of a firearm. So far, details are being withheld pending a Virginia State Police investigation. Cooke’s body was sent yesterday to the state forensic lab in Roanoke for an autopsy.


Visitation and funeral services are scheduled for today and Saturday and are detailed in his obituary on Page 4.

Norton citizens and officials expressed shock and deep sadness at the sudden passing of the 14-year police veteran, who also was a minister at Wise Mountain Fellowship Baptist Church.

Lane said his work and home phones have not stopped ringing since he learned of Cooke’s passing. He’s gotten calls from citizens, members of neighboring police departments and officers from jurisdictions in other parts of Virginia, praising Cooke’s service and sharing stories.

Cooke worked at Westmoreland Coal Co. for 25 years until the company shut down its Virginia operations in the mid-90s. Then he reinvented his career. Lane said Cooke enrolled at Mountain Empire Community College, earned an associate degree in police science, put himself through the regional law enforcement academy and got a job with Norton in 1998.

“He was a great leader and a role model for every one of us in city government, not just the police department,” Lane said.

Everyone liked Cooke, the chief noted — even people he had arrested. Lane recalled people asking to have Cooke assigned to their cases because he treated them with respect and dignity.

More than once, officers went out to execute a search warrant, he said, and Cooke would insist on knocking first instead of breaking down a door. The searches almost always went well, with residents thanking Cooke for being considerate.

Cooke was particularly passionate about helping children and investigating cases that involved kids, according to Lane. When Cooke was promoted to captain, he asked to stay in the investigative division so that he could continue focusing on cases involving young people and advocating for them, he said.

After the recent Connecticut school shootings, Lane noted, he called Cooke to make sure the police department made officers available if Norton schools wanted them around. Cooke said he already was standing in the Norton Elementary and Middle School lobby at the time. Cooke went there personally each morning for the rest of the week.

Cooke never met a stranger, and was known for his firm, confident handshake. Lane recalled patrolling downtown with Cooke during public events and having to slow down; Cooke couldn’t walk more than a few steps before someone would stop him to shake hands and chat about things.

Cooke’s law enforcement career set a standard of professionalism, work ethic and calm, steady demeanor that will be held up as the model for current and future Norton officers, Lane said.

“He could have retired already,” Lane noted. “But he was here every morning at 7 a.m. as if he was a new officer, having to prove himself.”

Cooke used his upbeat personality and his experience as a minister to provide support for fellow police staff members when they were troubled by problems, Lane said. Someone else put it to Lane this way, he said: “Roger was the glue that held us all together.”

“He’s laughed and cried with all of us,” Lane said. “He married me and my wife, and has presided over other officers’ weddings. He’s shared our losses. That meant a lot to each of us.”


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