Alumnus of the Issue: Congressman Jim Cooper



“As your representative in Congress, it’s my job to make sure your voice is heard.” These are the words of Congressman Jim Cooper, an alumnus of Groton’s class of 1972 and father of Hayes Cooper ’14. The Circle Voice has featured Representative Cooper to understand how Groton has shaped him as a politician and to listen to his opinions regarding the political climate of the United States.

Representative Cooper was born in the 1950s in Nashville and raised in Shelbyville, Tennessee. In 1966, Representative Cooper attended Groton, and he fondly remembers his experience there. “While I attended Groton, it was my entire world. My father died when I was in 3rd Form, and both my brothers were at Groton,” Representative Cooper wrote in an email. 

At Groton, Representative Cooper loved all his classes, but he took an especially keen interest in the classics. Representative Cooper strongly admired Hugh Sackett, a legendary classics and Greek archaeology teacher at Groton. “Hugh Sackett told our class that we read farther in Greek lyric poetry than any class in his long tenure. I felt like I was being complimented by Plato himself,” he said. Representative Cooper also admired upper-classman Mac Bundy for reading every book in the library. 

Outside of class, Representative Cooper participated in a wide variety of activities. He rowed varsity crew and played varsity squash. “I wanted to be good at football, soccer and tennis but failed miserably, although I did learn to enjoy long-distance runs on the Triangle,” admitted Representative Cooper. 

Aside from sports, Representative Cooper sang for the choir and spent much of his time in print and wood shop classes. “I also loved making lots of beautiful furniture in Harvey Sargison’s wood shop and set tons of lead monotype in Al Olson’s print shop,” he wrote. During Representative Cooper’s time at Groton, the school used to have a print shop class and even its own printing press.

He even wrote for the Circle Voice, and in his spare time, Representative Cooper often read newspapers and news magazines. “The Circle Voice helped me become the co-editor-in-chief of the Daily Tar Heel at UNC, which probably won me the Rhodes,” wrote Representative Cooper. “No skill is more important than being able to write a clear English sentence. Lead with your lede and organize your thoughts. They can dynamite mountains.”

Representative Cooper believes that Groton has profoundly shaped his career. “Groton is a better launching pad than Cape Canaveral. I got both a high school and a college education at Groton, enabling me to win the Morehead, Rhodes, and graduate from Harvard Law without breaking much of a sweat,” Representative Cooper wrote. However, he admits that there are also some drawbacks to attending Groton. “Groton is a political liability, however. All that privilege is hard to explain or overcome at the polls.”

Representative Cooper credits his family and love for news as a motivating factor for entering politics. His father was the former governor of Tennessee and his grandfather was the former speaker of the Tennessee General Assembly. “I was young enough to have missed their times in office, so I was intrigued by their public service, not jaded,” Representative Cooper wrote. “I also was a news junkie, so I was conversant with major issues and passionate about change. Those qualities helped me become the youngest congressman in America.”

At age 28, Representative Cooper became a congressman for Tennessee’s 4th congressional district, where he served from 1983 to 1995. In 2003, Cooper became a congressman for Tenessee’s 5th congressional district and is still serving there today. 

When asked about recent events such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid-19, Representative Cooper gave his frank opinion. “Both crises were predictable if leaders have enough imagination and sense of justice, although no one knew their time of arrival,” stated Representative Cooper. “Managing these crises is not nearly as hard as President Trump makes it look. Just listen to scientists, tell the truth, and obey the Golden Rule.” 

“The 1918 flu, modern medicine and jet travel teach us that viral mutations, animal transmission, and rapid spread are inevitable, so preparedness is essential. Nevertheless, society tends to let down its guard,” Representative Cooper added. “Sixty years after the Civil Rights movement, we should not have needed the BLM movement to remind us that justice is necessary for peace.”

When handling these crises, Representative Cooper thinks about the lessons he learned at Groton. “Groton’s AP European and American History classes taught me by 6th Form that, as Mark Twain said, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” recalled Representative Cooper. 

Representative Cooper criticizes the overall political climate today. “We are living through another McCarthy Era, full of poisonous suspicion and anger. We will heal eventually, but we can hasten the cure if we practice kindness in our everyday conversations, especially on social media,” wrote Representative Cooper.

When asked to give some final words and advice to current Groton students, Representative Cooper wrote, “Keep up with current events. Groton is not a cloister. Our planet is your world. Be ready for it, not with hot-house refinement but with hardy, perennial vitality.”