William Landy Cook III (Will) of Columbia and Royal Oak, Maryland died on Saturday, November 27, 2021. He had just turned 79 years old.
Will grew up in Dundalk, Maryland. He was born on November 17, 1942 to Margaret Norris Cook and William Landy Cook Jr. During his school years, Will attended Gilman School in Baltimore. Although he was 6’4”, Will did not have the coordination for basketball; he was more interested in painting and other non-athletic pursuits. Upon graduation from high school, Will went to Lehigh University, where he found an interest in Engineering Mechanics. He then attended graduate school at Purdue University, earning his Master’s degree in Astronautics with a minor in Human Factors Engineering. Will’s first job after graduating from Purdue was with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was hired as the youngest engineer on a project to develop a new computer program to perform static and dynamic analysis of complex structures such as satellites and earth station antennas. Will later earned his Doctor of Science degree in Computer Science from George Washington University, while continuing to work at NASA full-time.
While he was in graduate school, a family friend offered to set Will up on a blind date—all he had to do was pick from one of three sisters described in detail on a set of index cards. He picked the oldest sister, Barbara, because she sounded practical, intelligent, and hardworking. They had their first date at a Baltimore Colts game (sorry, Mom, that must have been rough), and it lasted most of the day. They were inseparable from that point onwards. They married in September 1967. In 1968, they bought a house in the new planned community of Columbia, Maryland, designed to be a model of racial and socioeconomic integration and built with a focus on environmental and social planning. He was not a typical dad at the time. He was an avid amateur photographer, building a dark room in the laundry room so he could develop his own photos. He spent his free time carving linoleum blocks to make prints for family Christmas cards and making silkscreens for the official Bryant Woods Swim Team tee shirts. He handled more than half of the child-rearing for their three kids, which allowed Barbara to go to law school at the University of Maryland at night and graduate first in her class before becoming the longest-serving (and first female) County Solicitor for Howard County.
In the meantime, Will was busy building a career of his own. He accepted a position working for Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), where he saw the need to develop a comprehensive computer program to model the entire satellite system in order to determine how best to route traffic through satellites and decide when new satellites should be launched. Will also developed analysis techniques and implemented software to analyze multi-surface reflecting antennas and time domain analysis of signals transmitted over a satellite channel. We don’t really know what any of that means but suffice it to say that Will was the smartest person we knew. When COMSAT was bought by Lockheed Martin, he agreed to stay on for a few years during the transition. He retired from Lockheed at the age of 60, and in many ways that is when he really started his life’s work.
Upon his retirement, Will and Barbara bought a second home in historic Easton, Maryland which they carefully renovated, falling in love with the town in the process. Will rediscovered his talent for painting, joining the St. Michaels Art League as Treasurer and participating in the annual Banner Auction in Easton. He also joined the “Thursday crew” for Habitat for Humanity, helping to build houses on the Eastern Shore. He designed websites for the St. Michaels Art League and the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center. And he secured a role as an extra in the 2005 blockbuster movie Wedding Crashers, also starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. (Yes, we know this one is completely implausible. But it is true! Look for the tall distinguished wedding guest in the background of the scenes shot at the fancy wedding on the Eastern Shore.) Despite all this, he still had too much free time on his hands.
Thus began Will’s main passion in life (aside from his wife): protecting and nurturing trees, forests, and native plants. The seed was planted when he noticed that their block in Easton lacked street trees, so he joined the Easton Tree Board, a team of volunteers appointed by the mayor to map and oversee protection of the city’s trees. He then began volunteering in the nursery at Adkins Arboretum in Ridgely, Maryland, where he developed a hiking trail map and identified and labeled the native tree species. As his interest bloomed, Will devoted more time to the endeavor, serving on the Adkins Board of Trustees for a number of years, including as President. Will also became a founding board member of the Old Growth Forest Network, the only national network of protected old-growth native forests, serving as Treasurer from 2012 to 2021. In that role, he began collaborating with the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in their efforts to protect areas of the largest contiguous park in Baltimore. Will practiced what he preached, too. By this time, he and Barbara had built a house in Royal Oak, Maryland, where he planted native trees and plants and hatched a plan to return much of the property’s three acres to native woodlands.
These are all things that Will did. It is just as important to us to try to faithfully capture who he was. He was kind and generous and forgiving. He treated everyone fairly and saw the good in everyone. He had an unending curiosity. He was brilliant. He was a serious person, but had a great sense of humor, and his laugh was unforgettable. He never got mad (with one notable exception in the 1970s, when his children all turned their noses up at his proffered dinner of fried clams and frozen lima beans while Barbara was studying for law school exams; we forgive him, he went on to become a great cook). He was happiest when working hard to promote causes he cared about, which mostly involved trees or people. He was one of a kind.
He also was a dedicated husband to Barbara, an amazing father to three children: Jennifer Cook Mason (Jason), Landy Cook (Megan), and Susan Cook (Chris Lee), and a wonderful grandfather to seven grandchildren: William Cook, Zachary Mason, Charlotte Cook, Alexandra Mason, Benjamin Cook, Claire Lee, and Madeleine Lee. We know he valued his relationships with his brother G. Norris Cook (Joan), his siblings in-law Mary Ann Bonos (Tom) and Ellen Swierk (Tom), his cousin Cheryl Myllo, and his many nieces and nephews.
A service for family and friends will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2021 at Carriage House at Kittamaqundi Community Church, 5410 Leaf Treader Way, Columbia Md, from 12:00pm-3:00pm. The burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, please feel free to donate to a charity of your choice. And if you have trouble picking one, we know of a few he might suggest:
To send flowers to William's family, please visit our floral store.