Tom Cooper LHHS Class of 19711953 - 2023
If you missed Tom Cooper, you missed out.
The 1971 LHHS grad passed away recently from cancer, just shy of his 70th birthday, leaving family and friends understandably at a loss — and wistfully nostalgic.
But this is no sad obituary. It’s a salute, a tribute to a neighbor who marched to the beat of his own drum, literally, much to the admiration — and maybe a wink of envy — of those in his orbit.
Many of us never find our life’s passion. Tom did. And even better, he found it early: Music.
Tom’s parents, Grace and Bill Cooper, moved the family to our neighborhood from Houston in the 1960s and made music a constant presence in the household.
“Dad built Heathkits, the DIY and portable radio-turn table assemblies on our dining room table,” Tom’s sister Sue McComb says.
“We listened to albums, show tunes and Broadway music all our lives; we knew the words to everything. It explains how my brother got obsessed with music.”
Later, membership in LHHS’s marching band, and instruction from directors Howard Dunn and Eddie Green, fueled Tom’s music drive. His friendship with LHHS bandmates Richard Burdine, Rush Fielden, Dale McFarland and Mark Roberts led the group to form its own band, Esto la Soza and the Dwindlers.
Where did that name come from?
“We were a glorified garage band and big fans of Frank Zappa,” says Mark, adding the group played in the breezeway at his family’s home, at Dale’s house and at Tom’s. No gigs, just fun he says.
“Zappa had fun with doo-wop and Hispanic culture. We thought he was funny, so we named our band ‘This from the Soda’ after his song ‘Sofa.’”
Sue says Esto la Soza and the Dwindlers was really about friendship and what Tom contributed to the community.
“Esto and those guys were a huge part of his love-of-music journey.”
After graduation, Sue says Tom attended UT Arlington for one semester, and that was that. He bought a used yellow Volvo station wagon, she says, and headed for life on the road as a bandmate. No more college, no more working at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and no more Metzger’s delivery-truck driving.
He landed in Las Vegas, and there, while pursuing music, he worked for LVISD and the LVPD Detention Center. Along the way, he met his wife, Vicki, a 911 operator.
“Tom was a sensational tympanist in high school band and orchestra. He followed his musical dream; I sometimes wish I’d gone on and done something like that,” says Mark, a civil engineer today.
Tom’s early idols included Tower of Power and Chicago, and he toured with some powerhouses himself: Cathy O’Shea, C.C. Jones, Silverwing, Jonas and The Good Fellas.
“Tom was always low-key and not overly gregarious,” Sue says.
“I was off in college, being a flower-child hippie, and then there was my brother: onstage in casinos and caberets. It was a sight to see.
“Tom would play at parties and big events. If he and Vicki walked into a restaurant that had a band, he would sit in on the drums. Vicki would volunteer him, and he always accepted,” she says.
“Tom was a red head; he was 6’2” and looked like a model. With his fair skin, melanoma progressed quickly,” Sue says.
Cancer claimed Tom, but in his memory, Sue urges neighbors to get regular skin checks.
Survivors include Vicki, Tom’s wife of more than 20 years; two daughters, Rita and Elizabeth; sisters Sue McComb and Cathy Hagood, and soccer-enthusiast grandson M.J. Bauer. Tom had a life-long love of dogs and was devoted to his current dogs, Ninja and Samarai.
Memorial contributions can be made to the SPCA of Texas.
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