William R. Cook

The Baltimore Sun

William Robinson Cook, a retired French horn and lute player who also restored and repaired instruments, died Sunday of a heart attack at his Towson home. He was 76.

Mr. Cook was born in Baltimore and raised in Hamilton. He was a 1949 graduate of City College and attended Western Maryland College.

During the Korean War, he enlisted in the Navy and served aboard the battleship USS Missouri as a member of the ship's band.

"He also told stories of being a gunner and an ammunition passer working far below the waterline of the ship," said his wife of eight years, the former Nedra Poe. "Wherever he was and whatever he did, Bill could find the quixotic and interesting to remember and relate."

Mr. Cook enjoyed telling listeners of such Navy experiences as helping introduce midshipmen to the sea, paying visits to exotic ports such as Rio de Janeiro and Guantanamo Bay, and riding out a vicious Atlantic hurricane.

After leaving the Navy, he continued his education at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, receiving a bachelor's degree in music education in 1956.

In the early 1960s, he traveled to Basel, Switzerland, where he studied the lute, music theory and instrument repair -- "all in German" -- Mrs. Cook said.

After returning to Baltimore in the late 1960s, he went to work as an elementary school music teacher in Baltimore public schools. He retired in 1990.

Mr. Cook, who had started playing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra while a student at Peabody, performed with the orchestra for many years.

"He was a good French horn player and always did a good job. He also had eclectic musical tastes," said John H. Suckling, a City College classmate and a retired professional flutist and piccolo player.

In 1960, he began a business association with Walter A. Lawson, a nationally recognized French horn maker and BSO musician who established the Lawson Instrument Repair Co. on Winters Lane in Catonsville in 1956.

They worked together until 1976, when Mr. Lawson moved the business to Boonsboro to concentrate on the making of French horns. Mr. Lawson died last week.

Mr. Cook "repaired and modified many of my instruments and he was an outstanding and a quite competent repairman," Mr. Suckling said.

"He also often created special keys or made adjustments on instruments for disabled students," Mrs. Cook said.

Mr. Cook sang for many years in the choirs of the First English Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter, 5513 York Road, where he was a member.

"Other than my dad, he is the first man I have memories of," said Richard W. Cook, a nephew who lives in Hawaii, in a blog tribute to his uncle. "He taught me to play chess when I was four, gave me a recorder when I was six, and a silver trumpet when I was in third grade. He introduced me to shortwave radio, showed me how to snap peas and boil crabs."

Richard Cook added, "He had the style of a Southern gentleman, speaking with a baritone Baltimore drawl, slowly and distinctly as if he were considering very carefully everything he wanted to say, and was concerned that you understand and appreciate every word. I cannot recall him ever saying anything that was unkind, or anything that lacked insight."

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter.

Also surviving are a daughter, Elena Cook of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a stepson, Joseph Mihalik of Baltimore; a stepdaughter, Jennie Crivello of San Diego, Calif.; a brother, Gordon Cook of Woodstock, N.Y.; and three grandchildren. His marriage to the former Anna DiMarino ended in divorce.


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