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Roger Cook

Obituary for Roger Cook

July 6, 1930 - February 6, 2021
Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania | Age 90

Obituary

Rajie "Roger" Cook of Washington Crossing, Penn., passed away peacefully on Saturday, February 6, 2021, in the presence of his daughters and the love of his life, Peggy. Pioneer graphic designer, Middle East peace activist, and beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and friend, Rajie left a meaningful and lasting imprint on all those who were lucky enough to know him. In Arabic, Rajie means "hope" — a fitting name because to so many of us, Rajie was not simply family, an artist, or a neighbor. He was a singularly generous and buoyant force whose brilliance and talent were matched only by his kindness and good humor; whose remarkable professional legacy was exceeded only by his life-sustaining love for his family and his unwavering commitment to peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

Born in Newark, N.J. on July 6, 1930, to Palestinian immigrants, Najeeb and Jaleelie Cook, Rajie graduated from Bloomfield (N.J.) High School and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and he served our nation in the New Jersey National Guard from 1946 to 1955. He worked at Colorform Toys, Paul Kempner, WAAT-WATV Channel 13, N.W. Ayre & Son, and Graphic Directions before founding his own firm, Cook & Shanosky Associates, Inc., in 1967. Over the many years of his career, Rajie created projects for IBM, Container Corporation of America, Montgomery Ward, Squibb Corporation, Black & Decker, Volvo, Subaru, AT&T, New York Times, Bell Atlantic, BASF, Lenox, and a number of other major international corporations.

No matter who you are or where you live, if you've been to an airport or looked for a public restroom, you are most certainly familiar with his work. In 1974, Cook & Shanosky was selected by the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the U.S. Department of Transportation to design "Symbol Signs," a collection of 52 pictograms — including the internationally recognizable men's and women's bathroom symbols, the no smoking and parking signs, and many more — which are used to this day. He often joked that his art appeared in more museums than Matisse's or Van Gogh's. For his contributions, he was invited to the White House in 1985 to receive a Presidential Award for Design Excellence. In 2003, the project was accepted to the collections of Cooper Hewitt, the National Design Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Rajie closed Cook & Shanosky in 2002, and turned his focus to his other very prolific career: as an artist-activist. From 1981 on, Rajie created and exhibited three-dimensional sculptural assemblages (his "Boxes"), including many about the Middle East conflict and the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. His art was informed by his life story and his many fact-finding trips to Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, Egypt, and Syria he took while serving on the Task Force for the Middle East, a group sponsored by the Presbyterian Church of the United States. The drive for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became his life's mission and the focus of his art and activism, and his Boxes were featured in galleries across the United States and around the world. A man of seemingly limitless energy, compassion, and concern for human rights, it was not uncommon to see Rajie, in his 70s and 80s, engaged in deep conversation and debate with inquiring twenty-somethings at his art openings and activism events in Brooklyn, Washington, or Philadelphia. And in 2018, after years of commitment, Rajie published his memoir, A Vision for My Father: The Life and Work of Palestinian-American Artist and Designer Rajie Cook with Interlink Publishing Group.

His distinguished professional career was, of course, just a part of his story. Rajie met his wife of 65 years, Margit "Peggy" Schneider, in 1944. She was, as he wrote, "a woman of intelligence and integrity, the kind of life companion who would explore this path I wanted to follow with me." Rajie and Peggy devoted their lives to their love of modern design; in 1969 they moved with their daughters Cyndi and Cathie to a Bauhaus-inspired glass and stone home they built in the woods of Washington Crossing, Penn. Visitors to their home would quickly notice the hundreds of antique potato mashers lining the walls, an expression of Rajie's passion for simple, perfect design. If you visited the home as a child — or, let's admit it, as an adult — you would gaze in awe at the extensive model train he'd set up over the holidays; you'd crack up at "Sparky," the rambunctious raccoon hand-puppet Rajie summoned whenever children were near; you might even witness an after-dinner magic show and find Rajie had somehow taken your nose off your face. Perhaps you were present when he pulled out his guitar and sang bluegrass or country-western songs with a professional twang. After dinner, maybe you meandered down to the basement and watched a slideshow of his adventures with Peggy in Spain, Greece, Estonia, Prague, Venezuela, or other foreign lands. Likely you accompanied him on a tour of the studio he built in his backyard, a museum of thousands of found objects, with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with his Boxes, the room adorned with a giant handmade papier-mâché pencil — a manifestation of his unique genius. The home and studio were an embodiment of Rajie — a tribute to curiosity, creativity, love, and above all, his namesake hope.

Rajie's remarkable life extended deep into his community as well. In his twenties, Rajie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and after beating the disease he spent years as an avid tennis player and long-distance runner. He took up beekeeping, becoming a member of the Bucks County Beekeepers Association, and built an apiary of 25 hives. In the early 1980s, he purchased and restored the Phillips House and the Leedom House, both historic homes in Newtown. Rajie served on the Board of Deacons of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown and helped organize Newtown's Boldly Bluegrass festival and the First Night Newtown. He was a member of the Pratt Institute Advisory Board, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Newtown Exchange Club, the Ramallah Federation, the Bucks County Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Newtown Township Historical Review Board, the Newtown Chamber Orchestra, the Princeton Artist Alliance, the Boy Scouts of America Troup #1 of Bloomfield, N.J., and the Newtown Reliance Company for the Detecting and Apprehending of Horse Thieves and Other Villains. He gave generously and offered in-kind support to many organizations, including the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, the Ramallah Friends School, and George School, and mentored and encouraged many students interested pursuing careers in the visual arts.

In addition to his wife, Peggy, Rajie is survived by his daughters, Cynthia (William) Rhodin and Cathryn Cook; grandchildren, Sara (Tyler Lechtenberg), Torin, and Amy Rhodin; great grandson, Solomon Rajie Lechtenberg; and siblings Lillian, Wade (Pat), and Edward (Betsy) Cook. His sister, Julia (Woody) James, passed away in 2008.

An in-person memorial service will be planned for a later date. On February 21, 2021 at 2 PM EST, we invite you to gather via Zoom to reflect and celebrate Rajie's life with others who loved him. To join, please register here https://forms.gle/2f4dE7Z4URnPh6wm6 . In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund (www.pcrf.net)—gifts that can carry on Rajie's legacy of peace and hope.

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