OBITUARY: Peter Cooper

By | 2017-05-04T09:00:00+00:00 May 4th, 2017|Michigan, News|

OAK PARK – Peter Cooper, a longtime activist in the LGBT and Jewish communities, died of an apparent heart attack April 27. He was 64 years old.
Cooper was born and raised in Detroit. He attended Frank Cody High School. Shortly after high school Cooper started working in banking for City National, which later became First of America and, later still, National City Bank. He worked at the bank for 20 years, from 1979 to 1999.
In the 70s, Cooper became involved in Metro Detroit’s fledgling LGBT community.
“Peter was involved with just about every known organization that sprouted out in the 70s and 80s,” said his friend of over 40 years, Tom Zerafa. “He was part of the founding of Simcha, a gay Jewish group, and he was involved with Metropolitan Community Church as more of a social member. He was also fairly active with the Gay Liberation Front at Wayne State University.”
In response to the AIDS epidemic, Cooper volunteered with several organizations including Wellness Networks and AIDS Partnership Michigan. He would go on to work for APM as a full-time employee for more than a decade.
“There were always three hallmarks that came with Peter,” recalled Barbara Murray, former executive director of APM. “One of them, which many of us well know, was his camera. I think anybody who was ever around him probably has a picture or two or three or six or eight that Peter took of them. And actually one of [my partner] Annie’s favorite pictures of me was taken by Peter at Pride in Ferndale many years ago. Now the other two hallmarks were always in his office at work. Number one was toys. Peter always had toys in his office – stuffed toys, fuzzy toys, all kinds of toys in his office. And he always had candy. He always had a bowl of candy or one of those feeder things that you’d hit the lever and candy would drop out.
“We always knew the day after a holiday that Peter would be late to work because he’d be at Walgreens buying all the candy that was now on sale,” Murray continued “We always knew that’s where he was. Stocking up on candy.”
Cooper also worked as a professional clown, going by the name of Slapstick.
In 2004, Cooper was facilitating an adult group at Affirmations when Jonathan Quirk came into the room and caught his eye.
“At that time I didn’t have any contacts within the gay community,” said Quirk, Cooper’s partner for the past 12 years. “This was the first time I’d ever been to Affirmations. I was looking for some type of outreach, some companionship. We didn’t connect at first. I didn’t come back for several months and he took notice. I came back in April of 2005 and we reconnected. He was leery about approaching me because of his status at Affirmations. He wanted to be sure it was appropriate.”
Within weeks, the two had decided to become a couple and embark on a relationship.
“In the beginning he was kind of the pursuer and I just fell in love with him,” Quirk said. “He was the kindest and most generous person I ever met. He accepted my eccentricities. He loved me not in spite of them but he welcomed them.”
While Zerafa said that Quirk was “the best thing to ever happen to Peter,” for his part, Quirk felt much the same.
“I always told him that he saved my life,” said Quirk. “When I met him I was in a very dark place and he kind of took me in and showed me so much about life and love and how to love myself. As much as people have said I was the best thing that ever happened to him he was the best thing to ever happen to me as well. I could search the whole rest of my life and never find somebody like Peter Cooper.”
As a couple, the two enjoyed doing things like going to yard sales and art fairs.
“Peter was not someone with a lot of means so we enjoyed doing things that were just simple stuff,” Quirk said. “We took a lot of pleasure in that and really enjoyed each other.
“It was really quite a relationship,” Quirk went on. “The thing with Peter is he knew so many people. So in the beginning when we were dating I had to get adjusted to the fact that whenever we went out he was going to see somebody he knew. I had to share him. But when we were home we had our own language. We communicated with each other. We did little things for each other all the time. And we always told each other that we loved each other every day.”
For his part, Zerafa said things will never be quite the same without his best friend around.
“When you met Peter you had a friend for life,” he said. “He touched thousands of people in his life. Thousands of people. He is going to be missed. I can’t even begin to imagine what life is going to be like going forward without him. I can’t even imagine it right now.”

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