Madison Cooper

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Madison Alexander Cooper, Jr., (June 3, 1894 – September 28, 1956) was an American businessman and philanthropist from Waco, Texas, and is best remembered for his long novel Sironia, Texas[1] (1952), which made publishing history at that time as the longest novel in English originally published in book form, in two volumes totaling 1,731 pages,[1] containing an estimated 840,000 words.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Cooper was born in Waco, and was the son of Madison Alexander and Martha Dillon (Roane) Cooper.[1] The youngest of three, he had two elder sisters, Lucile and Christine; the latter died the year of his birth.[2] A good student, he chose to attend the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1915 with a degree in English; while at the University he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.[2] Upon his graduation Cooper returned to Waco to work in the family grocery business, the M. A. Cooper Company, before attending officer's training camp in Leon Springs,[2] and serving as a lieutenant and captain for the U.S. Army in World War I.[1] Returning to Texas after the war, he worked for the family business for a decade before striking out on his own in various business pursuits.[1]

Cooper began his literary activities as a writer of short stories in the 1920s under the pseudonym Matt Cooper, selling a few;[2] in the following decade he took three correspondence courses in writing via Columbia University, where his professors suggested his style was more suited to the writing of a novel.[2] His mother died in 1939, and his father followed her in 1940; Cooper took possession of the family home after their deaths and remained there for the rest of his life, accompanied only by the longtime family servant, Bertha Lee Walton.[2] He converted the attic into a writing space, and spent much of his time there;[2] it remains today as he left it after his death.[3] Cooper offered the house to the USO during World War II, and hosted many servicemen there through the duration of the war.[2][4]

The Madison Cooper House in 2008.

Cooper soon developed a reputation as a wealthy and eccentric bachelor among members of the local community.[1] He grew ever more reclusive, withdrawing more and more from society; famously, he would limit his time with visitors to his house by using a kitchen timer.[2] He cut an unusual figure around town, wearing a pair of baggy khaki pants; an old flannel shirt; an old sweater; and shoes which had seen frequent repair. He carried his business papers in a battered leather briefcase, and was seldom without a list of books to be checked out from the library on the way home.[3]

Cooper never revealed his literary ambitions to anyone, and it came as a great surprise to many people when Houghton Mifflin published Sironia, Texas in 1952. Cooper wrote much of the draft of the novel on used carbon paper.[5] Sironia, Texas was set in a fictional Texas town which appeared to be based on Waco; many of the characters were known to have been based in some part on local personalities, but to what extent Cooper would never admit.[2] The book, an extension of a theme first developed in his 1939 short story "The Catch of Sironia",[2] remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for eleven weeks, and won him a 1952 Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship;[2] it has been noted that he purchased a Brooks Brothers suit to attend the fellowship ceremony.[6] He also received McMurray Bookshop Award, granted in 1953 by the Texas Institute of Letters;[1] he used the money to set up a fund for needy writers.[3] The book sold for $10 at the time of publication; this, coupled with the fact that Cooper refused to entertain options for foreign distribution, soon led to its falling out of favor.[7]

Cooper wrote one additional novel, The Haunted Hacienda (1955), which did not fare as well as Sironia, Texas; it was the first in a planned trilogy, but the other two books were never written.[1] Cooper also wrote book reviews for the Dallas Morning News.[1]

Cooper had remained employed by the Cooper Company for much of his life, rising in 1947 to the position of vice-president. He attempted to leverage his new position to impose changes upon the company, which were resisted by many other members of the firm. Eventually he acquiesced to a buyout, and in 1954 the company became the J. R. Milan Company, rechristened in honor of its new president.[2]

Cooper died in Waco, suffering a heart attack while seated at the wheel of his Packard in the parking lot of Waco Municipal Stadium soon after finishing his thrice-weekly mile-long constitutional run around the stadium track.[2] He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery, with Presbyterian rites;[1] his will directed that his literary files be burned, unread, upon his death,[1] and further requested the destruction of any papers that might be found to compromise his many female acquaintances.[7]

Philanthropy[edit]

Cooper began his philanthropic activities, often anonymous, around 1924, and continued them for the remained of his life.[1] He began with small gifts, often no greater than $50, to the local community chest and other organizations, including his alma mater; he also provided loans to local students he felt were worthy of financial backing.[2] Cooper set up the Madison Alexander Cooper and Martha Roane Cooper Foundation in honor of his parents in 1943;[1] with the stated goal "to make Waco a better place in which to live",[3] it gave out its first grant, $100 for the Waco Fire Department, three years later.[2] At his death he left his entire estate, totaling $3 million, to the Foundation, directing that it should be used for the betterment of life in Waco;[1] his house was also left to the Foundation as a headquarters building, with the stipulation that Bertha Walton be allowed to remain in the house as caretaker.[2] He also stated that no member of his family should be allowed to serve on the Foundation board, or have a say in the use of its money, until 2000.[2] The Foundation has since meted out grants totaling over $20 million for various projects around Waco,[5] and Cooper's name has been said to have become "part of the civic landscape".[6]

Cooper also supported Texas A&M University with the gift of a dairy farm he owned, donated to the university to provide an experimental demonstration farm to be used by the farmers of Central Texas.[2]

Honors[edit]

The terminal building at Waco Regional Airport is named in Cooper's honor,[8] as is a community clinic in Waco.[9]

The Madison Cooper House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "COOPER, MADISON ALEXANDER, JR.". tshaonline.org. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Baylor University – For the Greater Good: Philanthropy in Waco – Madison Cooper Jr.". baylor.edu. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Cooper Foundation – Waco, Texas :: Founder". cooperfdn.org. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Cooper Foundation – Waco, Texas :: Cooper House". cooperfdn.org. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Baylor University – Living Stories – Madison Cooper". baylor.edu. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Cooper name is iconic; his novel, less so". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "The Man Who Wrote The Longest Novel – Les Marcott – Scene4". scene4.com. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Waco Regional Airport – Fly Easy. Fly Waco. – City of Waco, Texas". waco-texas.com. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Super User. "Home". wacofhc.org. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 

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