More MS news articles for March 2001

Michigan State U. professor excelled despite struggles

Updated 12:00 PM ET March 16, 2001
By Ed Ronco
The State News
Michigan State U.

(U-WIRE) EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Mary Cookingham lived her life with dignity, grace and quiet strength.

Cookingham, the first woman to receive tenure from the Michigan State University Department of Economics, died of complications from multiple sclerosis Monday. She was 49.

"In all the people I've known, she was the strongest," said East Lansing resident David Bailey, Cookingham's husband.

Bailey, an MSU history professor, said although his wife's disease took its toll on her body, it didn't diminish her spirit.

"She treated it as something to be solved rather than something to be pitied," he said. "Even though she only lived to be 49, it was a success. She managed to go through her entire career without making enemies."

As the disease progressed, Cookingham was forced to make changes in her teaching style.

Those changes, Bailey said, ended up working out for the better.

"She would pick a student at random and get the student up to the overhead -- to work out problems," he said. "It was terrifying to the students at first but toward the end of the term, they started to get the point -- they knew more at the end of the term than the students who just passively took notes.

"She did it because she had to and it turned out to work better than she ever dreamed."

Members of the economics department will also miss Cookingham.

"Mary was a person we all loved," said John Goddeeris, chairman of the department.

Goddeeris said Cookingham was consistently optimistic.

"Mary never complained about anything," he said. "She went about her job and was very dedicated to it."

Former student David Murley, now an administrative law examiner with the Michigan Department of State, said she often went out of her way to encourage students. During the presidential election of 1988, Cookingham let her students out 30 minutes early if they promised to go to the polls and vote.

"She was an extremely caring professor as well as an extremely caring person," Murley said.

Former student Jill Huerta remembered Cookingham as a strong woman.

"She had an unusual combination of characteristics," she said. "She was strong and courageous and independent while still being very compassionate and sensitive."

Huerta said both Cookingham's fight with multiple sclerosis and her struggle for women's rights that defined her as a person.

"She was an extremely courageous person to go on the way she did," she said. "I have incredible admiration for that."

Huerta worked with Cookingham in a one-on-one independent study program. She said she remembered overhearing Cookingham giving an interview.

"They were asking her all about her life," she said. "She talked about all the good things that had happened to her and how exciting her life had been.

"I'm just sorry that I didn't get to know her more."

Cookingham was also the mother of two daughters, Elizabeth and Jean Bailey.

Memorial services will be held Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church, 800 Abbott Road. Contributions may be made to the Walter and Pauline Adams Scholarship Fund, c/o Michigan State University, Development Fund, 4700 Hagadorn Road, Suite 220, East Lansing, MI, 48823.

(C) 2001 The State News via U-WIRE