STC Remembers Lt. Edward ‘Ned’ P. Cooper
Memory of fallen Vietnam hero lives on This Veterans Day through college’s performing arts center
A Life Waiting to be Lived
A Love Waiting to be Shared
A Person Waiting to be Given
A Challenge Waiting to be Dared
When South Texas College chose to dedicate its performing arts facility in 2008, it did so in remembrance of a Vietnam War hero and U.S. Navy Lt. Edward “Ned” Pillow Cooper.
With a flair for adventure, attendees at that dedication remembered a well-traveled individual who spent time as a foreign exchange student in Germany and who had an eye for the unique and appealing.
It was these talents that helped Cooper secure a photo assignment with National Geographic to capture underwater life in the Bahamas. It also belied a man who in his quieter moments was grounded in faith, and an avid reader of the classics who loved the flow and expression offered by poetry; an outlet he often used to express his own feelings and observations about the world.
When dedicating what would eventually be called STC’s Cooper Center for Performing Arts that day in June 2008, college leadership at the time said it was their intent to not only honor someone students could aspire to, but to recognize a phenomenal individual who contributed to communication arts through his bravery and a commitment to academics during his life.
Lt. Cooper was killed in a tragic accident during his service as a navigator. Decades later, his mother, Edwynne Cooper, would bequeath a substantial sum to STC to honor her son. The funds were used to establish the Cooper Center and its facilities.
“Edwynn Cooper, Ned’s mother, was my next-door neighbor for years and also a client of my law firm, and she wanted to leave something in memory of Ned who died during the Vietnam War,” said STC Trustee Gary Gurwitz, who was among those trustees present at the dedication for the Cooper Center.
“Ned was a gentleman, and was very well-mannered and brought up, very trim and tailored. I think it was very fitting that the Cooper family gave their support to the community for the communications (building) as a lasting homage to Ned because he was a very good communicator.”
Current trustee Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr. was also in attendance at the time.
“I am most impressed with the generosity of the Cooper family to South Texas College,” Salinas said in 2008. “The Cooper Center for the arts program will serve as a legacy to a family that gave their best to the Edinburg, Pharr and McAllen communities.”
Born in Edinburg in 1945, Cooper was an Honor’s graduate of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, the president of the student body and drummer in the band. He was an avid outdoorsman and athlete who loved to ski and play tennis, golf and basketball.
After his graduation from high school he attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, later transferring to the University of Colorado at Boulder where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Finance before entering the U.S. Navy.
On Dec. 5, 1971, Cooper was the navigator on a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft that crashed shortly after takeoff from Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines.
The airplane reportedly lost engine, electrical, and hydraulic systems function and was forced to ditch into Subic Bay. All crew members survived except for Ned.
The Board of STC chose to honor both ‘Ned’ and his mother by naming the state-of- the-art building for the performing arts in their honor.
Media reports at the time noted how for years Cooper’s sacrifice was forgotten until he was finally added to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. three decades after his death in 2001.
Lonny Gordon said he and his family were friends with the Coopers growing up. Lonny’s mother, Ruth, would play bridge with Edwynna often, and he attended PSJA High School with Ned and his older brother, Ruffin.
“Ned was a gentleman, and was very well-mannered and brought up, very trim and tailored,” said Gordon, currently Executive Director at Gordon Ranch 1902 and a world-renowned performer with GORDONDANCE 1968 for more than 50 years. “I think it was very fitting that the Cooper family gave their support to the community for the communications (building) as a lasting homage to Ned because he was a very good communicator.”