Friday, July 20, 2012

Davidson College pianist Cooper dies

Ruskin Cooper, a pianist who taught and performed at Davidson College for more than a decade, died in Winston-Salem on Wednesday after a brief illness. 

Cooper, 54, collapsed on July 12 and never regained consciousness, the notice written by his family says. While it doesn't cite the cause, Cooper's family thanks the staff and Cardiac Care Unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for their efforts.

Cooper took up music as a child in Savannah, his hometown. He studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, the University of South Florida and UNC-Greensboro, where he won the school's Outstanding Dissertation Award. With the help of a Fulbright scholarship, he also studied in Germany. 

"He loved Germany and harbored a personal dream of opening a soul food restaurant in Berlin," the notice says. "The main obstacle was how to get collard greens delivered to Berlin from the United States." 

Davidson enlisted Cooper as artist associate in 1997. Commuting from his home in Winston-Salem, he taught piano and played concerts on campus and beyond. 

Cooper had a host of interests outside music, such as cycling, cooking and languages, said Mauro Botelho of Davidson's music faculty. He was always on the lookout for someone with whom he could practice one of the languages in his arsenal. 

"He was just a great guy -- a lot of fun to be around," Botelho said. "It wasn't the in-your-face kind of humor. You'd just be with him and realize that you were enjoying yourself." 

For years, Cooper raised money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of his mother, who died from complications of the disease in 2007. His family suggests donations be made to the society in Cooper's name or that of his mother, Emmeline King Cooper. 

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. July 28 at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah. Davidson's Botelho said the college will have a memorial after school reopens in the fall.