Robert C. Cooley, an educator who began working in Roseville schools as a janitor and became a devoted science teacher for generations of students, died Feb. 27 of a stroke, his family said. He was 77.
Mr. Cooley took only two sick days in 34 years as a teacher in the Roseville City School District. He spent most of his career teaching life science at Eich Intermediate School and retired from Buljan Middle School in 1995.
He inspired youngsters with his enthusiasm for exploring nature, including backpacking outings and field trips to the Pacific Environmental Education Center, which he co-founded in Fort Bragg. He brought science to life with classroom displays of fossils and live reptiles.
In 1974, he was named Placer County Teacher of the Year and was runner-up for California Teacher of the Year. In 2000, the Roseville district honored him with the opening of Robert C. Cooley Middle School.
"Bob brought a sense of enjoyment for learning every day that he taught," Superintendent Richard Pierucci said. "He made strong connections with students."
Mr. Cooley also was active in civic life as a member of the Roseville City Arts Commission. He supported public concerts and music programs in schools as a board member of Performing Arts of Roseville.
He was addressing the Roseville City Council on a public issue in 2008 when he went into cardiac arrest. Over the next two years, his heart stopped 10 times and he had 12 heart attacks. Even with a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted, his heart was failing, with only 10 percent of normal function.
In 2010, Mr. Cooley became the first patient in the Sacramento region to receive a left-ventricular assist device, or LVAD, to help his heart supply blood throughout his body. The device was newly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help patients who are unable to receive heart transplants.
"It gave him three more years of life," said his wife, Penny. "It was three years he wouldn't have had."
Born in 1935 in Williams, Ariz., Robert Carl Cooley was a teenager when his family settled in Roseville. He took a job in high school as a night custodian at Woodbridge Elementary School.
After graduating from Roseville High School and Sierra College, he left his studies at California State University, Sacramento, to join the Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He finished his education, graduated from CSUS in 1961 and returned to Woodbridge school as a new science teacher. He also taught at Kaseberg and Crestmont schools.
Mr. Cooley raised two daughters with his wife of almost 55 years and belonged to First Baptist Church in Roseville for many years. He joined Community Covenant Church 16 years ago and was serving as head elder.
A lively and outgoing man who cared about young people, he was a fixture at Roseville school sports events and music concerts. He was widely known in the community and fondly remembered by former students including Dr. Jeff Jones, who helped implant his LVAD device.
"When Bob found out Dr. Jones was going to be his pulmonologist, he said, 'I hope I didn't give him an F,' " his wife said.
Robert C. Cooley
Born: April 13, 1935
Died: Feb. 27, 2013
Survived by: Wife, Penny of Roseville; daughters, Laura Azzam of Reno and Traci Smith of Grass Valley; mother, Sally of Roseville; brother, Kenneth of Cardiff-by-the-Sea; four grandchildren; one great-granddaughter
Services: 11 a.m. March 16 at Destiny Christian Church, 6900 Destiny Drive, Rocklin
Remembrances: Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the athletic department at Robert C. Cooley Middle School, 9300 Prairie Woods Way, Roseville, CA 95747; the missionary fund at Community Covenant Church, 5140 Topaz Ave., Rocklin, CA 95677; or Performing Arts of Roseville, P.O. Box 141, Roseville, CA 95678.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.