The blog has been on a bit of a hiatus while we’ve been on a Washington State sojourn. We head back home in about a week and I’ve got posts in the hopper, but I wanted to go ahead and mark two passings. Both of these folks were very influential during my high school days. Though I had not seen either Eddie Cooper nor Caroline McCauley in several years, their deaths have hit me hard and I didn’t want to let these slip past without some commemoration.
Yesterday (July 27), Eddie lost his four year battle with leukemia. Eddie had made great progress initially, but this summer the disease came back with a vengeance. Earlier this month Eddie’s wife, Lori, sent word that there was no more treatment available and that he would enter Hospice care. Even knowing that the end was approaching, his passing was still difficult.
Eddie grew up in my home town of Gray Court, South Carolina. He was part of the Warrior Creek Baptist Church community that included several of my close friends, as well as my sister Susan and her late husband, Jennings’s families. I got to know Eddie best during high school. Though we were the same age, separated only by three months, he was one year ahead of me in school. We rode to school together for three years.
After high school Eddie started North Greenville College, which at that time was a two-year school. He commuted from Gray Court. Both of us worked part-time second shift at the Rudolph Penland Company machine shop. When we got off work at 8:00 we would head over to my house and play ping-pong until we got dizzy. On the weekends we played tennis and went on several double-dates.
After two years at North Greenville Eddie transferred to Furman and graduated from there in 1982. From Furman he went on to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina for his Masters. After graduation Eddie married Lori Kent. I attended their wedding in Duncan, but soon afterward I lost touch with Eddie and Lori as Eddie began his work as a Baptist minister.
Some years back we reconnected when Lori started working in our office in Spartanburg Five. Eddie was pastor of Apalache Baptist Church in Greer. We would meet several times for lunch during that time. I retired from the district and Lori retired a few years later. I followed Eddie’s journey through leukemia treatments thanks to Lori’s Facebook posts. With her latest updates I feared the worst.
In addition to his wife, Lori, Eddie is survived by his mother, Marion Cooper. Sadly, I wont be able to attend Eddie’s funeral because of our travel schedule. Here is a link to his obituary.
The high school teacher that most influenced my life was Caroline McCauley. She was the chorus teacher at Laurens District 55 High School and pretty much determined my career path. Mrs. McCauley passed away on June 23, 2021, at the age of 88.
When I first encountered Mrs. McCauley in high school I was already deeply entrenched in music. I could play piano, I played trumpet in middle school band, and I could sight sing. However, singing in a choral group hadn’t even crossed my mind. In the churches in which I group up, “choir” was a nebulous concept. Basically it was anyone who came up to the choir loft. There were no rehearsals, no anthems, no specials, not even a real choir director. There was a “song leader” and the choir just sang the hymns along with everyone else. I had heard recordings of choral groups and was already enamored of arrangements of Sacred Harp music, but I just hadn’t given thought to singing in such a group. Any such singing by trained voices was derisively labeled as “opera” in my narrow-minded circle.
My freshman year of high school I didn’t partake in any kind of music. Some of my close friends, though were singing with Mrs. McCauley in either the boys or girls choruses, and they seemed to be having fun. My sophomore year I decided to audition for Concert Choir, the most elite group at the school, and I got in. From that time on I was a total choir geek.
I auditioned and got into All-State Honors and sang with several small ensembles while in high school. I even dabbled in musical theater. As much as I enjoyed singing with a group, though, the thing that impressed me most was how Mrs. McCauley was able to mold a coherent sound from a group of disparate individuals. I was fascinated by the nuances of vocal sound and how things such as a simple change of phrasing or dynamics could make such an impact on the overall effect of a piece. It was during that time I decided I was going to major in music and become a choral director myself.
After high school I would see Mrs. McCauley on the occasions that I came back for Concert Choir concerts, usually at Christmas. My younger sisters, Beth and Ann, both sang with the Concert Choir and I would return to hear them sing. The concert always ended with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah, and alumni were invited to sing with the group on stage. I finished my music degree and did, in fact, become a choral conductor. I taught middle school chorus and directed church choirs for years and still sing with choral groups just about any chance I get. Caroline McCauley set me on a path that has lasted my whole life.
Mrs. McCauley retired from teaching and I lost track of her. A few years ago I spotted her at one of our Greenville Chorale concerts and had to speak to her. She was attending with her niece, Paula Hartsell. Paula was in my high school class and had sung with me in Concert Choir. It looked like neither of them had aged a day since the 1970s. It was the last time I would see my former choir director. When I learned of Mrs. McCauley’s age at her passing I was stunned. She was just a couple of years shy of 90.
The choral world has lost a star. Caroline McCauley influenced so many students and brightened our lives with the gift of music. She will be missed.