The Mayor of the Pentagon's 130-year legacy

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 2:00am EDT

David O. Cooke, a.k.a. the "Mayor of the Pentagon", was 82 when he died of injuries from a June 2002 car accident in Pennsylvania. He was a long-time, high-level career civil servant whose work literally saved thousands of lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

When American Flight 77 (hijacked from Dulles) slammed into the Pentagon on 9/11, 125 civilian and military people died. So did 64 passengers and crew and five terrorists. It was a tragedy, but it could have been so much worse.

Experts say there could have, should have, been many more deaths. But there weren't, thanks in large part, to Doc and his colleagues. As director of administration he pushed (as in begged, nagged and threatened) through a series of actions that resulted in a strengthening of the Pentagon's infrastructure. They had just been completed before that terrible Tuesday that changed all of our lives, and the world, forever. The changes are credited with saving thousands from death and or horrific injuries.

I mention this because Doc's "boy" is retiring next month from the government.

Time flies.

His sister and Doc's daughter is also a retired fed. (Michele Cooke Sutton retired as director of HR for the FCC a few years back.) The family obviously likes working for Uncle Sam. I wonder if federal agencies have 70-year service pins? How about a 130-year citation?

So where do such people come from? What makes them tick. You may find some clues in this letter from Doc's son, Lot Howell Cooke, who's pulling the plug next month. He said his retirement "is not of any particular note." But he said it is important because it is almost 70 years to the day when his father, Doc, joined the Navy.

It will mark the end of nearly 130 years of combined service by my father, my sister Michele, and me.

Doc served aboard the battleship USS Pennsylvania during World War II. He was discharged after the war and started law school, but by 1948 was working for the Department of the Navy in D.C. as a civilian while completing his law degree. He was eventually recalled to active duty and served as a JAG corps officer. His career took a path away from the legal profession in 1958 when he was detailed to Defense Secretary Neil McElroy's task force on Defense reorganization. He continued on detail to DoD until he retired from the Navy in 1968, and went back the next day as a civilian employee. He remained at Defense until his death in 2002.

Doc's activities, accomplishments, and awards were many. He was the Pentagon's Director of Administration and Management, as well as the Director of DoD's Washington Headquarters Services. He was commonly referred to as the "Mayor of the Pentagon" and is credited with reducing the casualities from the 9/11 terrorist attack by advocating that the Pentagon renovations that were then in progress include protective re-enforcements. He was a supporter of equal employment opportunities and recipient of the NAACP's Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award. He received DoD's Distinguished Civilian Service Medal seven times, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and numerous other awards in recognition of his exemplary service.

Michele Cooke Sutton first worked for the government in the summer of 1967 during college as a document bindery worker in the Pentagon printing shop. After graduation she went to work for the Department of Treasury. In 2003, she retired from the FCC as the Director of Human Resources after 34 years of service.

I went to work for the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee) in 1975, and went on to work for the Senate Intelligence Committee when it was formed in 1976. I attended George Mason School of Law at night while working on the Hill, and left the Senate in 1986 to work at the Department of Energy. I have served at the Department as an attorney working on any number of interesting issues involving, among others, electric congestion, reliability, and cyber-security, electric emergency operation orders, utility rate cases, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, natural gas imports and exports, and the Federal Power Marketing Administrations.

I found civil service a constantly interesting, challenging, and rewarding experience, and would recommend it as a career choice despite some of the recent criticism of public servants. And I am proud of the combined efforts and contributions of my family.