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'An inspiration' to many: Port Moody community mourns the loss of Mary Anne Cooper

Cooper, who lived to be 107 years old, was a passionate advocate for the preservation of Ioco townsite as a heritage and cultural site; screening of the Spirit of Port Moody documentary about her life and the city to be screened Dec. 11, 2021

Port Moody is in mourning this week after a Freedom of the City recipient died on the weekend.

Mary Anne Cooper was a well-regarded heritage activist who was also an award-winning swimmer, environmentalist and volunteer.

She was 107 years old.

“I will miss her very much. She was a dear friend,” said Jim Millar, executive director of the Port Moody Station Museum, who worked with Cooper on multiple projects, including the annual Ioco Ghost Town Day event and heritage recognition of the Ioco townsite.

“She was always an inspiration to me,” said her daughter, Corrina Goodman, who said her mom passed away quietly on Sunday morning (Nov. 28).

Goodman said her mother had hoped to see Ioco townsite preserved as a heritage, cultural and education destination and she hopes others will carry on the work.

“She was so big on people working together,” said Goodman, adding that preserving the townsite as a destination was an important issue for Cooper. “It was the thing that was keeping her alive.”

Born on Oct. 30, 1914, in Ohio, Cooper lived through the Depression; her family survived on $14 a week, which her brother earned as a grocery clerk.

Her passion for community started early in the 1930s when she was editor of her high school paper, as well as a news photographer and reporter, according to her biography.

She went on to obtain her bachelor’s degree in education, a master’s degree and eventually she earned her doctorate in Fisheries and Wildlife, Conservation Education at Michigan State University.

She married a fellow university student, William Buell Cooper, and raised three children. Cooper also worked with the U.S. Corps of Engineers in its environmental branch.

In 1986, she followed her family to Port Moody and purchased a home on Ioco Road — close to the Imperial Oil (Ioco) townsite. 

Millar recalled Cooper as an “energetic woman” who was very active in civic life, including up until very recently.

In October, Cooper attended the showing of the Spirit of Port Moody, a documentary about the City of Port Moody and Cooper’s efforts to fight to preserve the Ioco townsite, a company town that turned 100 years old this year.

Cooper was also active with promoting environmental protection, and often spoke at council meetings about how the municipality should protect Ioco as a cultural and heritage centre. “It’s a gift. It’s a beautiful piece of land. It’s got water, forests, pathways, birds,” Cooper told the Tri-City News during an interview, referring to the Gilic Developments-owned site. “Future planning needs to consider it an asset.”

Cooper was also an avid swimmer, who specialized in the backstroke. 

At the age of 101, she set three international swim records at a meet in Tucson, Ariz. "It was just a fun thing… It was a really happy occasion and then we all went out for lunch,” she told the Tri-City News at the time.

Cooper enjoyed baking while living independently in her Port Moody home — and she would often give away her cookies and date squares. Millar said they would sometimes bake together and argue over the best ways to combine the ingredients. “Mary Anne would always measure everything out perfectly,” Millar recalled, while he tended to throw the ingredients together.

Goodman said her mother had an insatiable curiosity and was always trying to figure things out. “She didn’t want to talk about the weather, she wanted to talk about how the stars are made and how science was affecting the universe.”

Meanwhile, the City of Port Moody is putting a statement together about Cooper, who won several city awards for her heritage advocacy efforts, including the Port Moody Freedom of the City Award in 2011. 

In 2020, Cooper received the BC Achievement Foundation Community Award for her efforts to raise awareness of the “need to preserve and celebrate Port Moody’s heritage, protect its green spaces and reduce the challenges faced by older adults.”

There will be a free showing of the Spirit of Port Moody documentary on Dec. 11, hosted by the Residents of Pleasantside and Ioco Community Association.

More information is available here.