Edward Addison Cook III (Ed), 88, died Monday, Aug. 13, 2018. Ed was the best lawyer and the best person I have ever known. I loved Ed.
In 1884, Ed’s grandfather came out to Lexington, Nebraska,[i] from Illinois after reading law. He submitted to an examining panel before the District Court of Dawson County and was, that same day, admitted to practice. Later, Ed’s father took over. The Cook law firm celebrated 100 years of continuous practice in 1984, and I was privileged to attend the celebration as Ed’s law partner. Ed practiced law for five decades, and I was honored to have spent 13 of those years with him. Judge Jim Doyle later became our partner as well.[ii]
Jim and I will soon fly out to attend a barbecue in Texas where Ed retired near the end of his life to be close to his children. At that gathering, Jim and I and a host of others will eat barbecue, drink cold drinks, and remember our dear friend. We will marvel that Ed never once complained, nor told us about, his decades-long struggle with the leukemia that would ultimately take him. The barbecue will perfectly mirror Ed’s humility (and sense of humor). Ed would never have allowed anything so pretentious as a “celebration of life.”
In a general practice, like the one we had, a lawyer takes most everyone who walks through the front door.[iii] Ed’s knowledge of the law was stunning. Ed knew how to structure a one-bank holding company. He could do an IRC section 1031 “like-kind” exchange in his sleep. He could get you a liquor license too, although Ed’s grandfather, the first Edward Addison Cook, was a strict Methodist who fought against demon rum.[iv] And if you were involved in a divorce, Ed would calmly walk you through it with a minimum of pain. And if your husband was made a vegetable by the negligence of a semi-truck driver, Ed would see to it that you received the largest insurance settlement in Nebraska’s history (at that time). And when it came to criminal law, Ed had cut his teeth as a young prosecuting attorney for the county, so he knew what was up and what was down.
I don’t know how to adequately describe Ed to you. But I need to try.
Ed was a wry man. He served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps during the Korean War. For reasons he never fully understood, Ed was stationed in Kansas City. Ed assured those who asked about his service that he “fought in the battle of Kansas City” and, so far as he knew, no North Koreans lived to tell the tale. He also completed his law degree while saving Kansas City from the Chicoms and their pickled-cabbage-eating comrades.
Ed was a deeply cultured man. He and his dear wife Betty[v] travelled the world. Ed was the treasurer of the Museum of Nebraska Art and president of the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Ed and Betty were active supporters of the University of Nebraska at Kearney Honors Program and opened their home to loads of foreign students. They received the UNK Distinguished Service Award in 2007.
Ed was a banker, but an unusual one. In later years, and while still practicing law, he bought a bank that was about to fail and quickly turned it into a thriving institution. About to become president of the state bankers’ association, Ed, using his skills as a lawyer, stopped a fellow banker from grievously mistreating minority shareholders when the banker and majority shareholder did a deal to sell the bank. That did not sit well with the clannish members of the bankers’ association, and Ed’s selection as president-in-waiting was rescinded. Ed didn’t care a wit.
Ed was a farmer. After living many years in town, Ed bought a dead-level section (640 acres) of the most fertile ground imaginable along the south bank of the Platte River.[vi] Ed designed and built a modern home facing the hills, overlooking the immense corn field, with floor-to-ceiling book shelves and a library ladder on wheels to access a vast collection of books. My kids used to love to go out there to see the bald eagles soaring above the river and then landing in the cottonwood trees. I remember the story my late wife told of going out to see Ed and Betty one freezing March day and walking into their elegant home, only to see a baby calf being fed by Betty with a bottle. Ed took our dog to the farm after one of my children became very allergic to the dog’s dander. Buffer, our dog, had a happy life at the farm until a coyote got him.
Ed was an utterly kind and completely honest man. I never once heard him raise his voice, whether in or out of court. If he had to do a cross-examination of an adverse witness, it was done in an effective, yet respectful and utterly decent, way. If he told you he would do something, you didn’t need to write his promise down. His word was all you needed. Ed was the man that Diogenes went searching for.
And then there was the time that Ed, as appointed defense counsel, saved a killer from the death penalty, angering many of the 5,500 souls who lived in Lexington. Words fail me.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge
[i] Lexington began as a frontier trading post in 1860. It was known as Plum Creek.
[ii] The tiny firm produced the youngest U.S Attorney for the District of Nebraska and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. That was Don Ross, Ed’s brother-in-law. I clerked for Judge Ross and that connection brought me to Ed.
[iii] Well, there were exceptions, but not many. My favorite exception was this: When a client said he or she thought suit was warranted “as a matter of principle,” Ed would quietly tell the client that he would happily fight for principle so long as the client was willing to pay for it. Funny how that focused the client’s mind.
[iv] Ed not so much.
[v] I am happy to say that Betty survives Ed.
[vi] Close to that beautiful farm is the site of the Plum Creek Massacre. A war party of about 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians attacked a wagon train on the Oregon Trail in 1864, killing 13 men and capturing a woman and a boy. That event was the first significant flashpoint in the Indian War of 1864.