Ocala historian and longtime Ocala Star-Banner journalist David Cook died on Monday at home. He was 93.
A native of Delray Beach, Cook and his family moved to Ocala when he was 4. His parents operated a grocery store on what is now West Silver Springs Boulevard near Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
He soon developed a love for history, which eventually spurred him to start chronicling Marion County’s history in hundreds of “The Way It Was” columns for the Star-Banner starting in the 1980s.
Even though he officially retired in 1995, he continued writing the column, stopping only to care for his wife, Miriam, in her final years.
“I became fascinated with history in grade school when we began studying the Revolutionary War. I remember studying the Battle of Bunker Hill. I was born with a very vivid imagination. I could just see myself in that so vividly as a child, I could smell the gunpowder in the air,” Cook said in 2019 upon the publication of his book: “The Way It Was, A Trek Through Marion County’s Past.”
Cook’s articles began appearing in the Star-Banner while he was still in high school. One of his goals in high school was to serve as a page in the U.S. Congress. He eventually traveled to Washington D.C. where he served a page in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Back then, you had to come from a wealthy family or be well connected (to get a page post). He was neither. But he set that goal, and he achieved it,” said Maclyn Walker, Cooks’ daughter.
After high school, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the waning days of World War II as a weatherman in Iceland. After his military service, Cook attended the University of Georgia and earned a journalism degree from the Grady School of Journalism. His first daily newspaper job was in 1950 at The Moultrie Observer in Moultrie, Georgia. That’s where he first started writing historical articles.
He later joined the Star-Banner as the sports editor. Shortly after, Cook started writing a sports column in 1953 titled “What’s Cooking in Sports.”
He became editor of the paper in 1960 before joining the Tallahassee Democrat in 1967 as associate editor. Cook returned to the Star-Banner as managing editor in 1979. When he retired, he was the editorial page associate editor.
In addition to his book, which is a collection of some of his more popular columns, Cook’s archives are available on an online searchable database at the Marion County Clerk of the Court’s website.
David Ellspermann, the longtime clerk of the court, said the archive is full of historical nuggets not easily found in other sources.
“A lot of it is about specific people,” Ellspermann said. “That was a blessing to have.”
Walter said Cook always tried to use people of the day to illustrate the country’s history.
“He felt that a lot of folks deserve to be remembered. It’s also about and having a good story. If you have a good story, people will remember,” she said.
Dana Smith, another of Cook’s daughters, said having his worked archived and easily accessible was a joy to him.
“He was trying to educate people. To make them more knowledgable of their history. It was important to him,” Smith said.
Ellspermann said he really got to know Cook when they both served on the Marion County Historical Commission.
“The depth and the colorful way he was able to communicate historical events was extraordinary,” he said. “What an incredible loss for the family and our community. He was a treasure.”
For Smith and Walker, however, Cook was foremost “daddy.”
“He was the perfect father for four little girls. He was patient. He would take us shopping. He introduced us to the arts. He took us to hear the orchestra, to watch operas, to plays. He really loved broadway musicals and took us to performances,” Walker said. “He took us to Washington D.C., to New York so we could see and experience the world. He wanted us to have a greater understanding of the world.”
Cook was such a fan of music, his vinyl record collection at one point grew to almost 50,000 albums. Later, he replaced many of the vinyl records for compact disc versions, but he still had well over 10,000 vinyl albums featuring, classical, opera, jazz, swing and Broadway hits.
Walker said Cook always had a bright outlook on life. He only briefly lost it after battling prostate cancer at 70.
“He was sure his life was over. But we went on a trip to Maine, and while we were walking along a pier toward a lighthouse, he said, ‘You know I don’t think life is over. I think it’s going to be OK,'” Walker said.
He would go on to continue writing his column for years and publish his book.
“He saw that book as a culmination of his life’s work. He was so grateful to Historic Ocala Preservation Society for making it happen,” Walker said.
Cook was preceded in death by his wife in 2016 after 61 years of marriage. Daughter Lisa Cook died in 2018.
Survivors include daughters, Dana Smith, Maclyn Walker, and Lori Rath, all of Ocala; seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
The funeral will be a small, family-only event with a memorial service planned for a later date due to COVID-19 concerns.
Keeping all of you in thought and prayer at this difficult time. Your dad sounds like a person I could have sat and listened to his stories for hours...much like my own dad.