Very sadly, Dr John Coope MBE, passed away on Christmas Day 2005. He was 77.
Dr John, as he was known to us all, was the most outstanding son and citizen of Bollington in the past century. He was born in Bollington in 1928, one of seven children; his parents were general practitioners in the village and he carried on the practice, now at the Waterhouse, in partnership with his wife Jean and brother Maurice, and later joined by his son Gerald.
Without his remarkable foresight, drive, and total commitment to this town through the second half of the twentieth century Bollington would be a very much poorer place today. Dr John sensed the breakdown of society and family structure during the heady and hedonistic days of the early 1960s and felt the need to stimulate activities and interests that would bring people together particularly for artistically creative activities, to provide them with the opportunity to develop their social and artistic skills which, at the same time, would bring in the wider community to embrace their performance and perhaps to take part themselves. He created a vehicle for this in the now famous Bollington Festivals and actively chaired the Festival Committee from the first in 1964 to the Millennium Festival in 2000. His success can be measured by the fact that more than 1,000 individuals were involved in the 2005 Festival in a practical way with thousands more enjoying the performances and activities.
He was responsible for initiating, and in many cases leading, every major community artistic, musical and social activity in the town, as many as twenty in all. He encouraged the development of the already existing Band and founded the Festival Choir, both of which he also arranged for and conducted, the Festival Players, the Bollington Light Opera Group and the Civic Society amongst many others. Each of these has continued ever since and provide today a thriving testament to his contribution. He was noted for his musical skills; he became a very proficient arranger and conductor. In 1984 he was the driving force behind the development and success of the Arts Centre. In the same year he founded the William Byrd Singers in Manchester. He wrote a play with music – Wedding Photo – which was based on the photograph of a wedding taken in Pool Bank in the early 1900s and performed to much acclaim at both the 2000 and 2005 festivals.
Dr John founded the Civic Society with a number of objectives in mind. Firstly was his desire to build community spirit by bringing together those who shared common interests in the place that we inhabit. Secondly, he considered it important to maintain a ready made group of volunteers who would be available at a moment’s notice to campaign in the defence of Bollington in the event of any threat to the well being of the town whether from industry, developers, utilities or those who would profess to govern us. Finally, he wanted to establish a local history group that would research the history and heritage of Bollington. From this group came the amazing collection of more than 5,000 historic photographs of Bollington and its people stretching back over more than 100 years. The recognition of the importance of our heritage lead to the digitisation of the picture collection for public access and the development earlier in 2005 of the very popular Discovery Centre. The opening on 14th May was one of the last occasions that Dr John appeared at a public event and he was immensely proud that his Civic Society had developed such a valuable facility for Bollington. He was chairman of the society for around 30 years and latterly the first President.
And while undertaking all these individual achievements he gave unstinting service to the town from the Waterhouse, leading the medical staff in looking after the health of the town. It is said that at one time he knew every member of the population of Bollington by name! He was ahead of thinking when he developed and introduced population medical screening, now common place.
Dr John was, in 1993, so deservedly awarded the MBE for his services to the community.
A further significant achievement was his biography of Anton Chekhov published in 1997 – Doctor Chekhov: a Study in Literature & Medicine – which is said to have broken new ground by providing the first serious assessment of Chekhov as a doctor and demonstrating the close connections between his three fields of work: as a clinician, as a playwright and story writer, and as a moral philosopher*. There were clearly many parallels between the lives and achievements of the two doctors – no wonder Dr John felt compelled to study Chekhov so closely.
My personal memory of Dr John is of a man who never stood still, one who was always directing the building of now while thinking for the future. Every conversation was marked by the sense that his thinking was ten minutes, ten weeks, ten years ahead of one’s own. He was the quiet inspiration to two generations of Bollingtonians and no-one ever left a more valuable legacy to the town – community spirit; the ‘can do’ vision; collective and individual social and artistic achievement.
Dr John’s passing marks the end of an outstanding era for Bollington and is a tremendous loss to the town. Perhaps our greatest memorial to his achievements will be to ensure that all that he so diligently put in place for our communal benefit is developed into the future to continuously meet his objective of community involvement and individual achievement.
Dr John’s funeral was held at St Gregory’s Church, Bollington on Friday 30th December 2005. A very large congregation of Bollington folk turned out to pay their respects at the Requiem Mass and Celebration of his life which was taken by Father Robert Coupe SDB. The Band played before the service and for the first hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter. There were readings by members of the Coope family and by José Spinks. Katherine Nolan sang most beautifully Agnus Dei and the Festival Choir sang Ave Verum.
Bollington, the Happy Valley
* Review: Doctor Chekhov: a Study in Literature & Medicine
Julian Tudor Hart, visiting professor, Department of Primary Health Care, Royal Free Hospital, London
The book is available from the Discovery Centre.
Note of appreciation added by Brian Pailin …
I knew Captain Coope when we served in the Army. He was the medical officer to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment at Wellesley Barracks in Halifax and to the Royal Army Pay Corps at Ovenden. He was a first class medic and a generous man to those who were less able in the officers mess and beyond. John and I were good friends during our Army days.
The Civic Society is looking for someone to write a biography of Dr John. We are looking for the necessary funds to cover writing and publishing but all that is not much use if we don’t find someone with the ability and interest to research, interview his family, friends and acquaintances and then write a book to do him justice. If you think that you may be the person we are looking for then please send me an email. Tim Boddington.