Celestine Strode Cook was not a native New Orleanian but when she moved to the city in the 1950s, she became a major contributor in the realms of culture, politics, and business. Cook was born in 1924 in Teague, Texas to a father who was a machinist for the Rock Island Railroad and a mother who was a housewife. She graduated from Jack Yates High School in Houston and later from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1944. Cook became a teacher in the Houston public schools after she received her undergraduate degree. When her first husband, Bethel J. Strode, died in 1947, Cook at 24 with two children in tow, took control of her husband’s estate which included various properties and investments in Texas and Illinois. She met and married Jessie W. Cook and moved to New Orleans in the mid-1950s. She would call New Orleans home for the next thirty years.
After relocating, Cook became the executive secretary of Good Citizens Life Insurance Company and Good Citizens Funeral Systems Inc. She was elected to the Board of Directors of Liberty Bank and Trust Company in 1972 and, at the time, she was the only black woman serving on the board of a New Orleans bank. Cook was politically active as well. She served as chairwoman of the Women’s Committee in Mayor Dutch Morial’s re-election campaign in 1982 and also participated in the campaign of Dorothy Mae Taylor, the first Black woman to serve on the New Orleans City Council and in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Other elections Cook worked for included Mayor Moon Landrieu, Congresswoman Lindy Boggs, and Rose Loving. In 1971, she was appointed by Mayor Moon Landrieu as a member of the Cultural Resources Committee and by Governor John McKeithen to the Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped.
In a 1983 Times-Picayune article, journalist Liz Scott asked Cook how she handled all of her civic duties and appointments. She replied bluntly: “Organization. There are three things necessary to any goal. First; planning. Second; developing. Third; implementing.” Cook’s experience as a businesswomen led her into the sphere of what she referred to as “corporate social responsibility.” Cook certainly learned how to balance her various philanthropic, community, and political activities seamlessly and even referred to herself as a perfectionist. She was so busy that she employed a personal secretary to help her manage her affairs. She served as trustee of Loyola University, the Amistad Research Center and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in the 1980s. She was also a member of the New Orleans Chapter of The Links, Inc. and the Women’s Auxiliary of Flint-Goodridge Hospital. Cook continued her civic activities in New Orleans until her death in 1985.
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