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John Cooper obituary | Engineering


My grandfather, John Cooper, who died at the age of 96, was an electrical engineer. Throughout his life and work he was open to new ideas and embraced education and other cultures. His own life experiences sparked a deep concern for the welfare of others.

Born in Reading, John was the eldest son of Maurice, a master draper, and Agnes (née Bradley), an upholsterer. He won a scholarship to Reading Blue Coat School and left at 14, having passed his exams early, to support his family. He first worked in telecommunications, joining the Post Office’s telephone engineering department in 1942 and Greenwich, London-based cable manufacturer Telcon in 1949 – for whom he installed a large overhead cable at the top of the Shot Tower on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain – before taking evening classes to qualify as an electrical engineer.

John loved the opportunities it gave him to travel overseas. He designed and supervised the installation of complex television networks, notably in Madrid, Johannesburg and on the QE2 Cunard liner, collaborating with engineers from many countries and expanding his knowledge of different cultures. His experiences inspired him to return to night school in his 40s to learn Spanish. In 1981, he set up his own consulting firm, which designed the Queen Alia airport television network in Jordan.

He met Rene Harding as they were “both digging for victory” on a Kent farm in the aftermath of World War II; they married in 1951. Family was vitally important to him, and he and Rene had three daughters: Helen, Alison and Barbara. As someone who had to leave school early, John appreciated the opportunity of education and saw them all go to college and continue their education.

His engineering spirit allowed him to continue to embrace new technologies. After René’s death from heart failure in 2015, it became a lifeline for him to stay in touch with others. At the heart of that connection, especially during the pandemic, was the daily sharing of Guardian riddles with three generations of his family.

John has remained active throughout his life. As a youth, he had been a successful amateur footballer, including playing for Putney Athletic. After retiring to the Isle of Wight aged 70, he joined a walking club and organized and led the Christian Aid walk. At 90, he started cycling on his e-bike. He had a photographic memory, and became the family’s archivist and keeper of its history. He was never without a plan and always ready with a few lines of humorous verse at the milestone events of his friends and family.

His youngest daughter, Barbara, died in 2018. John is survived by Helen and Alison, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.