He caught TB in the 50s and lived to tell the tale.
But it was his recovery – on the roof of an Aberdeen hospital – that would set the course for the rest of Bob Cooper’s life.
For the Aberdeen Boys Brigade enthusiast who has died aged 89, had an epiphany during his cold air therapy that becoming a teacher was the career path he wanted.
We take a look back at the man who lived his life like the BB hymns he was so fond of: steadfast and sure.
Early days in Aberdeen
Robert Cooper – who became known as Bob when he met his wife – was born on September 7th, 1931 in the ground floor flat of 52 Esslemont Avenue, Aberdeen.
His parents were Robert Cooper, who worked for a time with Hall Russell Shipyard, and Emma Imlach – known for her hospitality and ability to make a pot of soup stretch to 20 people.
At age three the family, who attended Ferryhill Parish Church, moved to Aberdeen’s Ruthrieston Circle.
When Robert was nine his brother Douglas was born.
He attended Broomhill primary school and had lots of great memories of caring teachers and the fun he had in the school playground. P.E. was his favourite subject.
He thoroughly enjoyed being a member of the 9th Battalion Boys Brigade at Ruthrieston South Church and made strong friendships, which lasted a lifetime, within this organisation.
It was there that he developed his interest in gymnastics, football and, of course, swimming and diving.
Building and joinery
He moved on to Ruthrieston secondary school where he realised he enjoyed all things technical – especially drawing.
His love of sporting hobbies continued.
This included a regular invite for his entire football team to come back to his house where his mother would give everyone a good feed and then wash the entire team kit!
He left school at age 15 for a pre-apprenticeship school in Charlotte Street to study building and joinery.
He completed a four year apprenticeship with Burnett and Low but as useful as he found it, it only solidified his belief it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
Faith and friendship
He always enjoyed church life.
He was a regular face at youth fellowships and church camps.
And it was in this environment that he found someone special.
Susan Clyne, Bob’s daughter, said: ” It’s no surprise really that he found the love of his life, my mum Jean, at the age of 19, at one of these camps, in the village of Longniddry in East Lothian.”
Love at first sight
She had travelled from her home town of Kirkcaldy in Fife and from that weekend on, they kept in touch and enjoyed regular visits to see each other.
She was the first person to call him Bob.
Like her husband-to-be, Jean was also involved in church.
As Girl Guide her fellow Guiders did a guard of honour at their wedding, which took place in Abbotshall church, Kirkcaldy.
Swimming in the Suez
But before his nuptials, like most young men of his generation, Bob called up for national service.
As part of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers he was mainly stationed in Egypt.
He found the experience entirely fulfilling, enjoying the camaraderie as well as even more opportunities for sport.
“My dad loved army life and he took part in many team sports – his favourite being water polo. It was actually all his swimming in the Suez that he thinks attributed to catching TB.”
Unexpected x-ray results
On returning from the army he applied to do teacher training.
As part of the process all candidates had to undergo a chest x-ray.
When his application was rejected it came with the news that he had contracted TB.
He spent six months in Woodend Hospital with collapsed lungs and was treated with rooftop fresh air therapy.
“They put him on the roof with a tarpaulin over him. It was a cozy bed but in a cold atmosphere, and they collapsed both his lungs.
“It was then that he read the Bible cover to cover, twice, and realised he wanted to do teaching.
“He was very lucky. So many people didn’t survive TB at that time.”
Aberdeen College of Education
When he was cured, he joined Aberdeen College of Education to study for two years.
But on completion he couldn’t find work.
There was a lack of woodwork and technical teaching positions in Aberdeen.
Jean and Bob wed at the end of his first year, on September 1, 1956.
And so when work was needed after his graduation in ’57, they went back to Fife, where Jean came from, for his first teaching post.
Lucky to be alive
“My dad considered himself to be very lucky to have recovered from that terrible disease.
“By the time my dad was leaving college I had come along. My dad got his first job at Dunfermline High School,” Susan added.
He taught woodwork, metalwork and technical drawing – and loved it.
He would go on to teach in several schools in the Fife area.
Joy and heartbreak
In 1959, the Coopers were delighted to welcome a son – Kenneth – into the world.
But sadly, unknown to the couple, Bob and Jean were both carriers of the gene for cystic fibrosis.
Kenneth lived for just nine months and after advice from doctors to have no more children, they decided to make an application for adoption.
It took three years but the trio finally became a family of four when they adopted Lindsay in March 1962.
Would you like this little brother?
Just 10 days old when they picked him up, Susan remembers her parents having to borrow a car to go and collect him from Craigtoun Park hospital in St Andrews.
She also recalls the nurses helping her adjust to a new sibling.
“I have this memory of a very elaborate ruse where by I was shown around a room full of babies and was led to a point – suggestively – to say I wanted Lindsay as my little brother.
“Of course it was a much more complex process and my parents knew exactly who we were coming to pick up, but I still think about them helping me choose Lindsay and giving Lindsay a story of being so, so wanted.”
Still in Fife the family spent holidays in Aberdeen.
Having saved for his first car – an old black Daimler – Bob put his ‘techie’ skills into action and adapted the vehicle so Susan and Lindsay could have little tables in the back.
Next to be added was a tow ball ushering in an era of one of Bob’s favourite things to do: caravanning!
To say he loved his caravan is an understatement.
He even towed it around Piccadilly Circus in London to let his children see all the lights!
Teaching the teachers
After several years in these posts, he started running evening classes for primary teacher, showing them which teaching aids and audio-visual equipment they could learn to use in the classroom.
Then in 1968, he spotted an advert for Head of Department in the new College of Education, Aberdeen.
He got the job and he moved his family to Springfield Gardens.
Proud of his family
Both Jean and Bob always enjoyed welcoming new people into the family.
Susan’s marriage to Fraser brought them great joy.
And he was delighted to travel to Shetland for Lindsay and Angela’s wedding.
Not only was he pleased to spend time there with grandsons Euan and Alexander, Bob told Angela how much he loved Shetland and wanted to go back.
His other grandchildren: Katie, Stephanie and Christopher loved trips around Europe with their Grandma and Grandad.
But it was the arrival of great-grandchildren that saw Bob’s happiness increase further.
Oscar, Sebastian, Luka, Calvin and Ollie – five boys, all of whom Bob was proud.
Capacity to care
Robert Wilson worked with Bob at the College from 1971 until 1992.
He said: “It would be hard to overstate the contribution that Bob has made to the welfare in retirement of so many former members of the staff of what was at one time Aberdeen College of Education.
“His setting up of ACERSA (Aberdeen College of Education Retired Staff Association) was a master stroke: a piece of forward thinking born out of a great capacity to care, and to show concern.”
Rock solid man
He goes on to describe him as a ‘genuine 100 percenter,’ adding: “Bob was a rock solid ‘college man’ through and through.”
Of Bob’s contributions to education Mr Wilson notes that he took part in college operas, he became treasurer for the Association of Lecturers in Colleges of Education in Scotland, he made sure the audio visual equipment was up-to-date and working, and he was an exceptional organiser.
“For me personally, Bob has been a staunchly loyal, reliable, trusted friend and supporter over many years.
“Thank you, Bob, for everything.”
Laid to rest in his BB tie
The funeral of Robert ‘Bob’ Cooper took place in Craigiebuckler Church where he was a member for more than 2o years.
Boys Brigade anthem ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ played, and he was cremated wearing his BB tie.
He is survived by his wife Jean, children Susan and Lindsay, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The family say their loving, caring, generous man, who always made time for everyone, is greatly missed already.