Mike Cook was many things—an avid sportsman, an astute accountant, a loving family man—but perhaps most of all, he was known as a man who dedicated himself to a life of service.
The long-time Cloverdale legionnaire died earlier this year in May after battling pulmonary fibrosis for more than a decade.
Mike was born Dec. 27, 1941, in Vancouver General Hospital, the son of Leslie Cook and Myrtle Christmas—Myrtle was the daughter of Cloverdale pioneer Arthur John Christmas. Mike was born premature and Myrtle had to face that difficult time alone, as Leslie was off fighting overseas.
Arthur first settled in New Westminster after immigrating to Canada in 1912. He moved to Cloverdale in 1914 and quickly wove the Christmas name into the fabric of Cloverdale society. It was natural for Mike to weave himself into the historical tapestry of the area too.
Mike’s parents divorced when he was very young and he remained an only child. He grew up in Cloverdale going to both elementary school and attending Lord Tweedsmuir there. He roamed Cloverdale as a youth while Myrtle worked as a hairdresser. His time wandering the old streets of a then-still pioneer town endowed the young lad with a sense of community spirit. It also created a gregarious nature in him, transforming the pain of his parent’s divorce into a lifelong love of community.
The family home was in downtown Cloverdale on 176th Street, halfway between 58 Avenue and 58A. The house was built in 1913 and housed his mom’s hair salon, affectionately called “Myrtle’s.” Unfortunately, the heritage home burnt down one year in the ’80s on Rodeo Weekend.
Mike fell in love with sports in his youth and was a top athlete. He played little league ball and was so good that he even got scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Although he went to a Pirates’ camp, he didn’t want to be away from the community he loved.) He got into golf in high school and won several junior championships. He remained an avid golfer his entire life, playing in four pro-ams at Northview during Air Canada Cups, and he was even club champion at Newlands one year. Mike also played hockey and basketball and later fastpitch.
He took night classes after his high school days to become an accountant and around this time he met Judy Jolleys. The couple dated for a short period and were married in 1966. They lived in White Rock for six years, moving back in 1972, the year daughter Paralee was born and two years after Michael Jr. was born. The family’s stay in White Rock was the only time Mike ever lived outside of Cloverdale.
In 1972, Mike bought the Shell Bulk Plant from his uncle A.J. Bourassa. It was located on the southeast corner of No. 10 and 176th Street and Mike sold furnace oil, gasoline, and diesel to farmers and local businesses.
But most of all, Mike will always be associated with the Royal Canadian Legion.
His association began at 15, when he played on a Legion sports team. Although, he really started to get involved after he was married, following in the footsteps of his father-in-law and mentor Jack Jolleys. As Mike didn’t grow up with a father, he and Jack became very close. They spent a lot of time together and Jack became a surrogate father to Mike. And because Mike grew up an only child, it was natural that Judy’s five brothers and sisters became Mike’s siblings. He was their big brother and he embraced the Jolleys family as his own.
After his initiation with the Cloverdale Legion, Mike started climbing the Legion ladder and ended up becoming president of the B.C. Yukon Command (1999-2001). He was also Dominion treasurer (2000-2014), which covered all of Canada, president of the Branch No. 6 (Cloverdale), Peace Arch Zone commander, and was appointed a B.C. Command trustee in 2017.
Mike took a run at municipal politics in the early ’80s, but after losing in his first election he hung up his political hat for a volunteer ribbon and started giving more of his time.
Most importantly he volunteered a lot of time with the Legion and other organizations around Cloverdale. He was president of the Cloverdale Board of Trade. He was treasurer of the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Association. He was a volunteer firefighter. He was the director of Metro Vancouver Minor Football. And he was the director of the Surrey Rams.
While he owned the Shell Bulk Plant, he often spent more time in the day working on his volunteer activities than he did on his business.
The Legion recognized his years of service in 2021 when they awarded him a Dominion Command Presidential Citation for “exemplary service to the Legion.” He also received the Legion Meritorious Service Medal and he was awarded the Palm Leaf, signifying excellence in Legion Service. This award is the highest that may be achieved by a Legion member. But Mike was most proud of the citation he received from Veterans Affairs Canada for his service to veterans after he helped launch a veterans’ PTSD program at UBC and for spearheading a headstone project at Surrey Centre Cemetery—one in which vets got new headstones.
Mike was also instrumental in getting “Kneeling In Remembrance” installed atop the Cloverdale Cenotaph.
As B.C. Yukon Command president, he was also granted the honour of taking dirt from B.C. and placing it at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa—a particularly emotional moment that stuck with Mike.
Wife Judy remembered him as a generous man and although he was quick-tempered, he told things like they were. Plain-spoken, Mike would often raise the hackles of upper-Legion brass in Ottawa for “telling them exactly where they were going wrong,” much to Mike’s delight.
“He was always willing to help anybody that needed help and he was just a really great, all-around guy.”
Michael Jon Cook passed away on May 22 at home. He was 81.
A celebration of life will be held Sept. 24, at 11 a.m. (PDT) at Northview Golf and Country Club, 6857 168th Street in Cloverdale. The celebration will also be livestreamed at legacystreaming.com/alternatives.