Frances Lewis Cooke, 95, passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 30, 2021 at Phoenix Assisted Care of Cary. Frances was born in Nash County, North Carolina on November 30, 1925 to the late V. Earl Lewis and Bessie Alford Lewis. For over 40 years, she and her late husband, of 51 years, Howard Ray Cooke Jr., made their home on Haven Road in Raleigh.
A private graveside service will be held on February 2, 2021 at New Knightdale Baptist Church Cemetery, Mailman Road, Knightdale. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at a later date.
She is survived by her daughters: Marilyn Cooke Harper (Grady), Anita Cooke Stallings (Steve); grandchildren: Ivan Harper (Sawyer), Christy Harper Stevens, Adam Stallings, Angela Stallings Martin (Heath), David Stallings; seven great-grandchildren; brother, Curtis Lewis; sisters: Janet Hardee and Faye Hurst.
Frances was born and raised in a close-knit farming family. In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded in death by her siblings: Lynda L. Troxler, Doris L. Poole, Evelyn L. Godley, Robert G. Lewis, J. Stanley Lewis, William E. Lewis, Sr.
Frances attended East Carolina Teacher’s College where she met her future husband, “Cookie”, a Marine who was stationed in Greenville during WWII. In recent years, some of her best memories were the stories of how they met, how that “Yankee” was welcomed into the Lewis family, and the letters that sustained her while he was stationed in China during the war.
After a brief career as a science teacher in Knightdale, NC, Frances began her life’s work with Baptist agencies, first for the Raleigh Baptist Association, followed by Tabernacle Baptist Church and then, from 1978 to 1988, with the NC Baptist Foundation. With the Foundation, Frances was Director of Trust Development, the first woman in the US to hold this position in any of the state-based Baptist foundations. When Frances traveled to annual conferences of Foundation staff, she was often mistaken for the accompanying spouse rather than the trust officer, which she and Howard laughed about. Frances continued to volunteer with Baptist associations across the state and her Church, teaching high school and college youth at Tabernacle and teaching study courses for churches across the state. She was a frequently requested speaker on worship, prayer, leadership, stewardship and trusts. At the request of the NC Baptist Convention, Frances taught Sunday School lessons on radio and TV for 10 years to help prepare other teachers. Frances was a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church for more than 60 years, where she served as a Trustee and a Deacon, one of the first women to be ordained.
After retiring from the Foundation, Frances continued to enrich her knowledge and share her gifts of teaching and relating to others. She loved her grandchildren without limit and knew how to connect personally with each one. They each have stories of how their grandmother listened and talked with them while walking on the beach in a way that made them the center of her universe, allowing them to dream and instilling in them the confidence that they could reach those dreams. Frances also wrote two books, one born from her own grief when she lost Howard to cancer, A Couple Still, and the other from a conversation with a stranger while waiting for her car to be serviced, Lessons from the Garage.
Frances attended NC State to continue her education while in her late 70’s, making an “A” in a mathematics course that she thought might be too much for her. She also traveled to China twice during these years as part of a Baptist group to teach English to Chinese teachers. Part of her motivation was to see the place where Howard was stationed as a Marine, a trip they did not have the chance to do together. When the first trip to China did not place her in Qingdao, she traveled a second time, made wonderful life-long friends, and saw the University where Howard was stationed and the field where he would have marched.
Frances loved to travel with Howard and her family and there are many memories in photographs of their trips across the country and in later years to Europe. Her daughters, sons-in-law (who she loved as her sons), and grandchildren benefitted from this love of adventure after Howard’s death by being her companions on trips to Massachusetts (Howard’s home), England and Scotland, the Outer Banks and St John USVI. They also enjoyed time together and made many happy memories at their second home on Ocean Isle Beach.
Unwavering in her faith, Frances is now made whole again after a long battle with Alzheimer’s-related illness.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Cooke Mission Fund, NC Baptist Foundation, 201 Convention Drive, Cary, NC 27511.
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