The following eulogy was delivered by Bill O'Connor at Colonel Cooper's memorial on May 10, 2007, the the NRA Whittington Center. I hope that you enjoy it as much as those of us in attendance did:
Colonel Cooper believed one could never have too many books, too much wine or too much ammo. After a certain age, I might add, too many pairs of cheap reading glasses.
I’m not sure the Colonel would approve of me reading this. He believed that declamations should be made from memory. But when your issued equipment is prone to stoppages and failures to feed, it is good to have to a backup.
Jeff Cooper was… an amateur. You can put down the pistols; it’s not an insult. The word amateur comes from the Latin amo, amare, to love. And Jeff Cooper loved what he did, and he did it for love, not money. It’s true, Colonel Jeff Cooper was a professional and an expert, but he built Gunsite because he was an amateur. That does not mean incompetent. Let’s not forget that an amateur built the Ark; professionals built the Titanic.
Thirty-five years ago, Paulden AZ was not the bustling, megalopolis it is today, on the great trade route from Chino Valley to Cottonwood. A purely professional man who cared only for hard-headed financial analysis – would not have poured his money into the high desert sand. But the heart understands what the mind can’t fathom. And so the Coopers moved from California, and built Gunsite, out of faith and dreams and love.
I have spent many years in the east, what Paul Kirchner called the belly of the bunny. People have asked me what Gunsite is. Is it a shooting school? Well, yes. You mean like target shooting? Well, no, not exactly. It’s a gun fighting school. You mean like with real guns? Uh-huh. Is it legal? So far. You mean ordinary people can go there? That’s the idea.
You see, "ordinary people" is really a slang term for citizen. And to Jeff Cooper, citizen, like amateur, is not a term of disrespect. Our republic is meant to be self-governing. That is, it‘s meant to be governed by amateurs. And guarded by amateurs, too.
Sometimes, to give a better idea of what Gunsite is about, I’d tell the story of a guy who died and goes to heaven.
The line outside the Pearly Gates was long and barely moving.
Our guy noticed a sign with an arrow which read, "Express Entrance. Righteous Warriors Only." So he followed the arrow to an archway. And through the arch he saw campfires. And the air was filled with laughter and singing and the aroma of roasting meat.
So he stepped through the gate and toward the glow of the campfires. Suddenly, the laughter ceased. And all eyes bore down on him.
A giant with an enormous sword and flaming red hair, confronted him. "And who is this?"
A quavering voice replied. "My name is Albee Morton."
"Ay, Albee Morton, are ye a mighty fighter?"
"Uh.. No. I’m An accountant."
"Well, Albee Morton, accountant, this entrance is for warriors only. Ye cannot enter here if ye know nothing of combat."
"Well, I was in really nasty a fight once."
"Ah, a nasty fight. Tell us about it."
"Well, I was stopped at a light in my fully restored AMC Gremlin, when this girl came running across the street, screaming for help. And her dress was all torn and she was bleeding and crying for help, And this vicious gang was chasing her. And they were big and ugly and dirty and had skulls tattooed on their faces.
And their leader pulled out a huge knife and said, "Give us the girl." So I said, "You leave her alone. If you want her you’ll have to go through me!"
"Well, Albee Morton. That suggests ye’ve got some sand in your craw and steel in your spine. But we’ll have to check your story. When did ye say this happened?"
"Oh… about two and a half minutes ago."
I’m not sure the Colonel would have laughed at that story. In fact, it might have enraged him. He did not find stories about helpless men anything to laugh at. But he would have approved of a man with the guts to take on a gang of thugs to protect a woman under attack. And he would have welcomed Albee Morton to Gunsite, and led him down to the Gunsmithy for a more appropriate tool.
Even the most timid person recognizes the virtue and valor in Albee’s last stand. And all would want someone to come to the aid of their daughters in such a situation. But how many of them would condemn poor Albee Morton to fight with inadequate tools?
Now, as the Colonel always said, some situations are unsurvivable, and Albee Morton still might not have made it out alive – even with an E ticket in 250. But at least he’d have a shot. And he might rid the world of a few goblins on his way out.
There were many professionals who came to Gunsite for training. But there were lot of Albee Mortons, too – utter amateurs, who came on their own time and their own dime, because they were moved by Colonel Cooper’s words and ideas.
I remember one woman in my 250 class. She came because her husband was taking the course and she wanted to please him. The first pistol she ever fired was the .45 caliber Gunsite Service Pistol she picked up from the Gunsmithy the first day of class. She was afraid she’d hold up the class, and that if they wanted her to drop out, she would understand. But that’s not the Gunsite way.
She listened to the Mindset lecture. She practiced the presentation. She focused on the front sight, and pressed the trigger until the surprise break. And by Wednesday, there was no question in anyone’s mind, especially hers, about holding the class back.
It’s been many years and I forget her name. But I remember her clearly, standing on the square range in a long, blue denim jumper, looking like a gentle kindergarten teacher… with a big Colt .45 on her hip.
And because she dared to come to Gunsite to learn Jeff Cooper’s teachings, the sheep was no longer easy prey for wolves. In fact, she was no longer a sheep. She was a sheepdog. Jeff Cooper turned out a lot of sheepdogs.
In all the courses I took at Gunsite, I never once won a shoot off. Not once. Ever. I did the math, and concluded that I should avoid gunfights whenever possible. But it’s an uncertain world, even for amateurs. And sometimes the lover must become a fighter. It was Colonel Cooper’s mission to help them do just that. To those who find the Colonel’s views extreme, I ask, How many Albee Mortons are alive because they listened to Jeff Cooper? How many lives has Jeff Cooper saved?
When you went to Gunsite, you were not just a customer or a graduate. You became part of the Gunsite family. And the Coopers have always been very hospitable to family.
The Good Lord made man and woman incomplete halves, and Janelle was the gentle half that made Jeff whole. But make no mistake she was as strong as he was, and as much as I admired and respected the Colonel, I doubt he could have accomplished what he did without his Janelle.
Now, the past is a different country, and often the Colonel preferred the way they did things there. But he didn’t scorn something simply because it was new. In fact, the Colonel was quite an innovator. Witness the Modern Technique of the Pistol, Practical shooting and the Scout Rifle. But like G.K. Chesterton, he had no patience for the modernist who insists that Thursday is better than Tuesday simply because it’s Thursday.
That is why he had no patience with political correctness. The term itself is creepy. It’s the denial of critical thinking and conscience. It’s Orwell’s newspeak. Repeat the unacceptable until it becomes the assumed. Everything is relative. The truth is what we say it is. It takes a village. Women are men. Men are women. People are human resources. She’s pregnant, but it’s not a baby. The 2nd Amendment means the National Guard. It’s a collective right. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. It only covers muskets. It’s not a sporting firearm. It’s the weapon of choice. It’s a living document. Up is down, day is night. God is dead. And 2007 AD, Anno Domini suddenly becomes 2007 CE, Common Era. Common to what? Shhh. Don’t answer. It’s not PC and it’s inappropriate in our common era.
Jeff Cooper had no interest in living in a common era. Why, he asked, should we celebrate the common when we should aspire to the extraordinary?
The Colonel loved learning and he loved history. He knew that Aristotle and Augustine and Aquinas have as much to say to us today as they did to their contemporaries. We don’t need a Ph.D. to listen. A library card will do. We choose. We can fix our course by the stars that have shone through the centuries, or we can steer by the flickering lights of the latest wandering barque to float across the horizon. Jeff Cooper found no merit in following the lost.
The Colonel knew that when we ignore the wisdom of the ages, we are doomed to the foolishness of the ages. When we lower our standards, we inevitably follow them down. When we let things slide, we leave no slippery slope unslid. When we put down courage, we pick up cowardice. As the great C.S. Lewis observed, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." And he lamented, "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." In short, we cease teaching our young to ride, to shoot straight and to speak the truth.
Jeff Cooper never stopped teaching those things. He was, above all, I think, a teacher. St. Augustine believed two things were absolutely necessary for a great teacher. He had to love his subject, and he had to love his students. Jeff Cooper did both. He wanted the best for his students, and he’d prod and poke, command and cajole, growl and roar to get us to think and to learn. And his students loved him for it.
The Colonel had the ability to simplify the complex and make it absorbable. He shaved his doctrine with Ockham’s razor Make nothing more complicated than it needs to be. Keep it simple, but no more simple than it can be. Take his Principles of Personal Defense. Take his Four Rules
All guns are always loaded
Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t want to destroy
Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target and you’re ready to fire, [and]
Know your target and what’s behind it.
Simple. Very few moving parts. Everything that’s needed, nothing that’s not. Jeff Cooper never would have come up with Microsoft Word.
Plato believed the purpose of education was to turn the student toward higher things. So did Jeff Cooper. He did not develop the Gunsite curriculum to enable students to shoot higher scores in IPSC matches, although his training might very well result in higher IPSC scores. The main thing was to keep the main thing, the main thing. His purpose was to teach good people to react properly when attacked. To turn cold fear into icy rage. To do what the craven, the collectivist and the criminal fear. To fight back.
The Colonel loved liberty. And he fought for it fiercely with his pen. In his dozen books, in his Guns and Ammo column, in his correspondence. Talk about firepower! The two volumes of the Gargantuan Gunsite Gossip alone filled 1,850 pages! That’s more writing than many Americans have ever read. And think not just of its volume, but its depth and breadth. Read the Survivor, The Crossing, and the Barn. For the Colonel, there was so much to appreciate! And he did. He realized that all this world, all this life is a gift. And he took in as much as he could; he studied it, he savored it, and he was grateful.
I suppose the Colonel might not appreciate my indulging the Irish appetite for the maudlin. We came here to celebrate a his life, not mourn his death. Yet life and death are intertwined and inseparable. You can’t have one without the other.
I have an uncle, a favorite uncle. He’s a 91 year old Capuchin Franciscan monk who is receiving hospice care from a fine African fellow named Yosef, who lives in a small room next to his in the monastery. And Yosef never says, "Father is dying." He says, "Father is traveling." And so he is. And so is the colonel is traveling. This was only temporary duty. We’re all TDY here.
I’d like to read a brief paragraph written by Barbara Karnes, a registered nurse who specializes in hospice care. She sees death every day, and has a special insight into its mystery.
"I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says "There, she is gone!"
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spj½ ar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout "Here she comes!"
And that is dying.
Yet, Jeff Cooper is still here. He left a little piece of himself in each one of us. And he left a list of things for us to do. Strike a blow for liberty every day. No matter how small. Never get discouraged. Never give up. Never. Never. Never.
It’s a daunting task. But the Colonel believed we’re up to it. After all, we’re amateurs.