Sallie Cook, a no-nonsense former newspaper reporter who passed along her love for journalism to her youngest son, GeekWire co-founder John Cook, died Wednesday in Wooster, Ohio, after a long illness. She was 76.
A retired courts, cops and government correspondent for the Akron Beacon-Journal, Sallie was a tenacious, good-humored, bridge-playing Democrat whose upbeat personality and likability made her a civic and journalistic force in her 27,000-person Northeastern Ohio town.
She loved a good story, as a reporter and reader, and made a habit of emailing GeekWire staffers quick notes of encouragement when she liked something they wrote. She was partial to good shoe-leather reporting, often praising reporters for getting out of the office to track down a source or a key piece of information.
“Good job, Taylor. Keep digging,” she wrote to reporter Taylor Soper in 2013, after he found what was then the secret location of Apple’s Seattle engineering office.
“OK, now you know you’ve made it when you are getting praise from Sallie,” John told Taylor at the time. He explained with admiration that his mom “still gives me crap on poorly-written leads, or not getting enough sourcing in my stories (got one of those earlier this month).”
Sallie was “a powerful presence at GeekWire,” wrote civic innovation editor Monica Nickelsburg in an internal email on Wednesday, recalling receiving encouraging notes and story suggestions from Sallie. At the same time, “she was also a tough critic and held us accountable to high standards.”
As reporter Lisa Stiffler wrote, “the sheer fact that she managed to raise three Cook boys and slay ’em as a journalist is a tremendous testament to her tenacity, grace and general amazingness.”
Sallie also regularly joined the GeekWire podcast, sharing an outsider’s take on the technology business. On one episode, she appeared alongside Seattle entrepreneur Adam Tratt. The two struck up a friendship, and years after continued to play Words with Friends, with Sallie typically taking the crown.
As a beat reporter, Sallie lived by the mantra that the most important people to know and treat well in any organization were the administrative assistants. They controlled information, which led to scoops.
As a reader, she devoured the print editions of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Wooster Daily Record and Akron Beacon-Journal — “my paper,” as she still called it. She would often pass along story ideas and suggestions to John, pointing out items or trends in current events that GeekWire could dig into.
As recently as Sunday, Sallie was providing speaker ideas for the upcoming GeekWire Summit, suggesting that it would be important to feature a cybersecurity panel that dug into the issue of electronic sabotage and social media manipulation.
John got his start in journalism as a teenager, when his mom was working as a correspondent for the Beacon-Journal in Wooster, the Wayne County seat.
“Sometimes I would be extremely busy, and John would be doing nothing,” Sallie explained while sitting in on a GeekWire podcast during a 2016 visit. “And so I would say, ‘John go call the funeral homes, do the obits for me.’ ”
(John would make the calls hoping no one had died, because he was paid the same rate whether or not there were obituaries for him to write.)
“Some kids went to the grocery store and bagged groceries, or worked at the Dairy Queen,” John said in a 2014 radio interview. “I worked for the local newspaper, calling funeral homes, asking who had died that day.”
“I grew up around the news business, and my mom worked out of the home, so it was always around me, and the conversations around the dinner table were always about the brutal things going on in our community, and I kinda had a fascination with that, peering into the lives of other people,” he said.
Sallie was also active politically and in the community, once running for Wooster City Council and losing narrowly in the general election after winning the primary. She worked with the League of Women Voters, served as a non-profit board member, and canvassed and phone-banked for Democratic candidates including Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
Sallie’s civic engagement extended beyond politics, and in 2007 she was honored with the Wayne County Women’s Network annual Athena Award. In the Mayoral proclamation announcing the honor, Sallie was called out as a “model for business and professional women, having forged her way as a reporter in a male-dominated profession at a large daily newspaper, while at the same time, remaining deeply involved in her community.”
Sallie D. Cook was born as Sallie Dicke on Nov. 9, 1941 in Lima, Ohio.
Her father, Vernon Dicke, was a farmer in western Ohio and her mom, Anne Dicke, was a social worker. The family later moved to Findlay, Ohio, where Vernon bought an insurance company. Sallie attended Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating with a degree in political science in 1963.
She is survived by her husband of 54 years, Roger Cook, a former automobile and truck dealer and financial adviser; in addition to her three sons, John Cook and his brothers, UPS pilot Dan Cook of Cornelius, N.C., and geologist Dave Cook of Aspect Consulting in Seattle; and three grandchildren, Carter, Jane and James.
Calling hours are scheduled for Monday, Aug. 13 at McIntire, Bradham & Sleek funeral home in Wooster, Ohio from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a memorial service planned at The United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Aug. 14 at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to OneEighty, a non-profit that supports victims of domestic violence, those suffering with substance abuse and other community programs.
In an email to the team Wednesday, John described his mom as “a vocal GeekWire supporter and critic, pointing out when we did great work and when we fell short. Her standards were enormously high, and a compliment from her — I know some of you on the team received them from time to time — meant the world.”
He added, “The best way to honor my mom is to keep kicking ass on your stories, making the competition, readers and sources respect what you report and knowing what an important role we play as journalists in the community.”