Names and Faces of the Brazos Valley - James Cooper

By: Jordan Meserole, Brenda Sims, & Tom Turbiville Email
By: Jordan Meserole, Brenda Sims, & Tom Turbiville Email

As Dr. James F Cooper slowly shuffles from exam room to exam room, his aged knees force him to take more breaks than he’d like to.

His hands aren’t as strong as they used to be either, but that doesn’t stop him from doing the same job he’s been doing for more than 60 years.

“I look forward to when I get up every morning. I just enjoy seeing people and doing what I’m doing. And as long as I have the ability health wise to do it, I’d like to continue,” Cooper said.

Most people begin thinking of retirement around age 65; but for Dr. Cooper, retirement is a word that he’s avoided as long as possible.

At 82-years-old, Dr. Cooper is the oldest practicing physician in Bryan/College Station, TX. And doctor isn’t the only title he’s proud of to have earned – he’s proud of his title as veteran.

At the age of 18, Dr. Cooper enlisted in the Navy to help America fight in World War II. He was headed to the fight in the Pacific battles, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when things suddenly changed.

"We were actually on the way to Japan when the first A-bomb was dropped. And by the time we got there, all the hostilities had stopped," Cooper said.

With the war over, Dr. Cooper used the G.I. bill to enroll in medical school at the University of Tennessee. From there, he interned at the National Naval Medical Center in Maryland, where he came across many dignitaries and high ranking military officials.

Shortly after being stationed aboard the USS Yosemite, he got his first experience in real world trauma. The air craft carrier USS Bennington sustained major damages during an accidental explosion. A handful of men were killed in the blast, and many others were badly burned.

"It was not a very pleasant thing at all, because burn people were hard to take care of then as they are now, and we just did not have the facilities and we were overwhelmed with that number of severely burned people. We worked probably 72 hours non-stop, just admitting all of them, taking care of the most severely burned and injured," Cooper said.

Dr. Cooper went on to be named as a deputy medical officer for a destroyer fleet during the Korean War, and at the conclusion of that conflict, was moved to reserve status.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Cooper moved to Bryan, TX where he set up his first medical practice. And he still vividly remembers what it was like to be a doctor during that era.

"When I first came here, there were 27 total doctors in Bryan/College Station. There were 7,000 students at Texas A&M - they were all male. There two hospitals here, and they were both downtown. And the old Bryan hospital over by the courthouse was un-air conditioned in most areas, including the operating room and delivery room," Cooper said.

Cooper made many house calls during those days, and typically cost the patient only five dollars for the service.

As Dr. Cooper’s career in Bryan/College Station grew, his profession took him into other hobbies. He became the chief medical officer at the Texas World Speedway, and became a licensed pilot. And though he doesn’t fly anymore, he makes sure other pilots stay up in the air by administering airline physicals.

"We have people believe it or not coming from as far as Guam. I have one pilot who flies for Continental, and he has some relatives here. So they have to have a physical every six months, and about every six months he schedules a visit with the family and then he has his flight physical while he’s here. And I have many people coming from many different areas in the USA - especially a lot from Houston, Brenham, and Conroe," Cooper said.

And of all the activities Dr. Cooper has been involved in during his many years in the community, there's one that he enjoys doing most.

"The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization is a very fine organization. We do a lot of projects in the communities as far as speaking at schools, promoting patriotism, flag respect, and we're willing to do or go anywhere to try and help anyone we can," said Cooper, who was commander of the Bryan VFW Post 4962 from 2000 until 2002.

And just like his commitment to the VFW, Dr. Cooper plans to keep on practicing medicine as long as he can - no matter how much his knees hurt or how weak his hands have become.

"I told my boss at St. Joesph hospital that I'd like to retire when I hit my 101st birthday. And I think he didn't want to hear that. I think he wants me to quit a little bit before that. But I love medicine and I love practicing medicine. And as long as I have the ability health wise to do it, I'd like to continue," Cooper said.

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