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By Linda Emley
Found this in the Richmond Missourian, Feb. 19, 1910: “Dr. Cook Interviewed. Dr. T. B. Cook, Ray County’s popular Representative in the Legislature, was in town yesterday on business. When interviewed on the subject of re-election as a member of the next General Assembly he expressed a willingness to again enter the race if it is to the best interest of the county and the Party to which he belongs. His friends in every Township insist that he should be returned as a member of the next House, as there will be many things of great importance that will come before the next Legislature for consideration. Dr. Cook’s past experience and his acquaintance with the public men at the state, coupled with his ability as a debater on the floor of the House, qualifies him well for this work. It was due to Dr. Cook’s influence, perhaps more than to any other man, that several of Governor Hadley’s tax-grabbing measures were defeated. It was his policy as a legislator to refer all measures back to a vote of the people of his county whenever it was practical.
“As yet the campaign for Representative has not opened, and several other Democrats may enter the race. Dr. Cook will doubtless make his race on his record as a public servant well posted on the legislative needs of the state, and he will make an energetic and honorable campaign.”
Dr. Thomas Benton Cook was born on a farm near Lawson on the sixth day of May in 1855. His parents, Joseph and Melvina Cook, had just arrived from North Carolina via covered wagon in 1853. Thomas was one of 11 children. He attended school in Lawson and went on to Lathrop High School. He knew at an early age that he wanted to be a doctor, but he took a job teaching in the county schools to save money for college. While teaching from 1874 till 1880, he began reading medical books that belonged to his friend and mentor, Dr. W. C. James of Lawson. In 1883, Thomas Benton Cook became Dr. Cook when he received his diploma from the University of Kentucky. He came back to Ray County and set up his doctor’s office in Rayville.
In 1888, the doctor married Amanda Mossbarger, a music teacher form Carroll County. They had one daughter, who died in infancy, and one son, Thomas Francis Cook born in 1892. Thomas Francis Cook carried on his father’s tradition and became a doctor.
Thomas Francis attended Woodson Institute in Richmond, where he was a football star. After high school, he attended pre-med school at Central Methodist in Fayette and then transferred to M.U. From there, he transferred to St. Louis Medical School and got his doctor’s degree. During his residency at Research Hospital in Kansas City, he met his future bride, Martha Edna Munsill. They were married in 1921.
Thomas Benton Cook was known as Dr. Ben and his son, Thomas Francis Cook, was known as Dr. Tom. The young newlyweds moved to Maryville, Kan., but Dr. Ben urged them to move back to Ray County. He offered them a new home in Richmond and in December of 1921, they granted his wish and moved back home.
Dr. Ben died the following spring, on April 30, 1922. His obituary was on page one of the Richmond Missourian and ran the whole length of the page. “Dr. T.B. Cook Dead. Prominent Ray County Physician Passed Away at Rayville Sunday Afternoon. Dr. Thomas B. Cook, who had been ill with pneumonia at his home in Rayville for several days, died at two-thirty o’clock, Sunday afternoon. Several weeks prior to his death, Dr. Cook suffered an attack of influenza from which he had practically recovered when he was stricken with pneumonia.”
He was buried at Sunny Slope Cemetery with a complete Masonic service by the Richmond Lodge No. 57, A.F.& A.M.
His obituary provides a few more interesting details about Dr. Ben’s life. “Dr. Cook enjoyed a large practice in central Ray County and was regarded as one of the leading members of the Ray County Medical Association, of which he was President at the time of his death. Dr. Cook was successful in a business way and addition to his proprietorship of the drug store at Rayville, he was a stockholder in the Commercial Bank at Lawson and the Savings Bank at Richmond. He was a lifetime Democrat and was always active in the ranks of his party. In 1906 he was honored by election to the Missouri Legislature. He was re-elected to the Forty-fourth General Assembly and during that session he took a prominent part. He was made chairman of the committee on accounts and in that capacity acquired the suggestive sobriquest of ‘Watch-dog of the Treasury.’ ”
Dr. Tom and his wife Edna had two sons. Morris Wayne Cook born in 1922 and Thomas Benton Cook II born in 1926.
It didn’t take Dr. Tom long to establish his business and become a valuable citizen of Richmond. He was a trustee at the Methodist Church, a founding member of the Richmond Rotary Club and a member of the Richmond School Board for many years. It’s said that he was best remembered for his droll sense of humor, which was passed on to his son, Thomas Benton Cook II.
Dr. Tom died on Feb 6, 1949. He didn’t get to see his son, Thomas Benton Cook II, become the next Dr. Cook in Ray County, but the Cook family legend lived on. The third Dr. Cook served in WW II and then went to Central Methodist and St. Louis Medical School, the same schools as his father. He graduated in 1954.
In 1951, Dr. Cook married Margaret Rich, whom he had met while at Fayette.
Now we are getting to the part that many of us remember. The couple moved back to Richmond in 1955 and Dr. Cook opened an office upstairs in the Duval building. When Dr. Elmer Gay died, Dr. Cook joined Dr. George Davault in the Medical Center building. Dr. Cook continued his father’s community service tradition by serving on the Richmond School Board and being active with the Boy Scouts. Three children were born in the Cooks, Thomas B. Cook III, James and Rebecca.
Dr. Thomas B. Cook II died in 2008, but his memory lives on for many of us that knew his as a doctor and a friend. It’s rare to have three generations of doctors in the same county, so we are lucky that the Cook men kept coming back to make Ray County home.
The last Dr. Cook inherited his father’s droll sense of humor and there are many tales of the humor he shared with his friends. One of my favorites is a story about Dr. Cook, Jack Pointer and Howard Hill. Something about telling Howard that the president was visiting Richmond and they were missing it all because they were in the mountains of Colorado.
I’m still collecting more details for this story, but it’s sure to be a fun one about the pranksters of Richmond.
Have a story, anecdote or old photo to share with Linda? She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in person at Ray County Museum during business hours Wednesday through Saturday.