In Memoriam: Chester Cooke

August 10, 2021

Chester William Cooke, long-time friend of the Institute of Sacred Music, passed away at HillHouse Assisted Living in Bath, Maine on Monday, July 12, 2021, at age 86. A 1957 graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, Chester maintained close ties with his alma mater throughout his life, and had moved to Highland Green, a retirement community near Bowdoin in 2003.

Music was one of his keenest interests, especially organ and choral music. A Connecticut native and resident, he rarely missed recitals played by Yale organ students and visiting artists or choral concerts by the Yale Camerata and Schola Cantorum.  Convivial gatherings of ISM faculty, students and friends at his waterfront home in Stony Creek were ever a highlight of the academic year.  After retiring in 1992, he volunteered as an editor for ISM publications for several years. 

Chester loved travelling in England to hear choral evensong at cathedrals and collegiate chapels, and cherished long friendships with some of the most distinguished choral musicians of his generation, including David Willcocks at Kings College, Cambridge; George Guest at St. John’s College, Cambridge; and Francis Jackson at York Minster.

His circle of friends was extensive and benefitted from his uncanny ability to maintain friendships across distance and years, ranging from his childhood through recent Yale and Bowdoin graduates. He loved to give out nicknames and collected his own throughout life’s journey, including Buddha (from college),and “the windy shore-dweller” (bestowed by a Yale organ major).  ISM students of a certain era will remember his good-natured teasing and the curmudgeonly persona he created for himself. With humble generosity, he had an impact on countless lives, and his mischievous smile brought joy to all who knew him. 

Contributed by Thomas Murray. Obituary at

The “Windy Shore-Dweller” playing the curmudgeon