Retired Jasper Fire Chief Monroe Marion Cooner died Friday evening at his daughter’s Jasper home. Cooner, a veteran of the Korean War, was 88.
Cooner spent 33 years with the Jasper Fire Department, including 18 years as its chief, retiring in 1993. He is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Dot Marie Rivers Cooner of Jasper; his daughter, former Jasper Police Chief and State Representative Connie Cooner Rowe and her husband John of Jasper; his grandson and namesake Marion Rivers Wells and his wife Jessie of Seattle, WA; his god grandchildren Molly Rowe of Jasper and Ryan Rowe who is stationed in Qatar with the United States Air Force and his “grand dog," a yellow lab named Jackson Browne.
“I have loved and admired him all of my life,” Rowe said. “He and I hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail together, we rode motorcycles and bicycles together, we snow skied together, we laid rock rock together, we listened to music together and we played countless card games and dominoes together and he raised me in church. I knew that every night when I told him good night, he would be reading his Bible. I have so many memories, and all of them are good.”
During Cooner’s time as fire chief, the department doubled in size. According to a July 1993 article in the Daily Mountain Eagle, Cooner was responsible for many changes during his tenure, including the hiring of the first black firefighter, the first female volunteer firefighter, the addition of a ladder truck, rescue truck, rescue team, a certified fire instructor and a smoke detector program.
Under Cooner, the city’s fire insurance rating improved, saving citizens thousands of dollars over the years in fire insurance premiums. Among the general changes in the fire department during Cooner’s time were the institution of minimum standards for firefighters, the addition of the Trace station, adding protective gear and uniforms.
“He was a great influence on me and my choices in life,” Rowe said. “I was deeply impressed with his role as a fire fighter and fire chief. He would tell me about fighting big fires and about the people they rescued. He rarely talked about the ones who did not make it, but he was deeply marked by those who perished in his 33 years with JFD.
“When I was a rookie at JPD, we showed up on at a bad call together over on Elliot Boulevard,” she continued. “I’ll never forget watching him take charge of the scene while I directed traffic. I wanted to be like him. He stood beside me when I was sworn in as Chief at JPD in 2011. It is a moment I will never forget. We just shared something that runs really deep between both first responders and fathers and daughters. A few days before he passed he told a nurse that he raised me to be tough, but in this moment I have never felt so weak. I will miss him, but I have no regrets. The last thing he told me was that he loved me and he knew how much I loved him. ”
Jasper Fire Chief David Clark started his career under Cooner, but had known his chief for a much longer time.
“I have a lot of childhood memories of who I called COONER at the time. My dad worked with Chief Cooner at Jasper Fire for many years and I spent a lot of time there,” he said. “The Clarks and Cooners would go on vacations together, and we spent a lot of time with each other. March 13, 1990 Chief Cooner gave me an opportunity to start my career with Jasper Fire, and I will always be greatful for that. I am the last firefighter still at Jasper that worked under his command. Chief Cooner will truly be missed and the legacy that he left with Jasper Fire still continues today and will continue from now on. God Bless the Cooner family.”
Jerry Selman, retired circuit judge, was longtime friends with Cooner. He said he had never heard a negative word spoken about the former fire chief.
“I have known Chief Cooner for over 50 years. He is one of the most honest and honorable men I have ever known. He will be deeply missed,” Selma said.
Cooner was the only son of the late Claude Greene Cooner and Emma Lane Turner Cooner of Jasper.
Visitation with the family will be Sunday evening at 5 pm with a Memorial Service following at 6 pm at Collins Burke Funeral Home in Jasper.
Retired Circuit Court Judge Jerry K. Selman will officiate the service. The Honorable Presiding Circuit Court Judge Hoyt Elliott will speak. The Rev. James Aaron of Piney Woods will deliver the message. The Honorable State Senator Greg Reed of Jasper and Mr. Ray Madison of Parrish will sing. Jasper Fire Chief David Clark will recite the Lord’s Prayer.
His home lodge, Jasper’s York Masonic Lodge #211 F&M along with Masons visiting from across the state will perform the Masonic Rites to close the service.