December 29, 2011

Feature Obituary: Brett Thomas Cooper, 34, for whom 'life was an adventure'

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

In 1998, Brett Thomas Cooper was working in northern Maine as a whitewater rafting guide when he came across a head-on crash on a back road.

click image to enlarge

An accomplished fly-fisherman, Brett Thomas Cooper caught this beauty a few years ago. “He lived a very full life,” said Christopher LaCasse, a friend since childhood.

Family photo


Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.

Mr. Cooper, who was a wilderness emergency medical technician, used CPR to assist a woman who had been injured in the crash.

"She was badly hurt," said Mr. Cooper's mother, Carlene Cooper of Cape Elizabeth. "If it hadn't been for Brett, she would have died, because it took an ambulance about 45 minutes to arrive."

Thirteen years later, the woman Mr. Cooper saved reconnected with him through Facebook, after learning that he was battling ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease. The two had not spoken directly since the accident.

Heather Richardson became Mr. Cooper's personal care attendant and close friend in the final weeks of his life, when he lived in an apartment in South Portland.

He died Friday at Maine Medical Center in Portland at the age of 34.

"Heather would say that Brett was her angel and that now it was her turn to be his angel," said Mr. Cooper's sister, Brooke Cooper of Portland.

His mother added, "He saved her life. She knew she couldn't save his life, but she did what she could."

Mr. Cooper was born in Newton, Mass., in 1977, and his family moved to Maine when he was 3. His father was a well-known obstetrician in Portland, Dr. Thomas Cooper, who died from cancer in 2007 at the age of 58.

Mr. Cooper attended Cape Elizabeth schools and Waynflete School in Portland before leaving southern Maine to study at Kents Hill School in Readfield.

His mother said he enrolled at Kents Hill because he wanted to ski competitively. Mr. Cooper became an accomplished downhill racer, competing against the likes of Olympian Bode Miller.

After graduating from Kents Hill in 1997, he attended colleges in Colorado and Vermont. His mother said, "He paid more attention to skiing than to school."

He decided to take time off from school to ski out West. When he returned to Maine, he became more focused. He graduated from the Maine Medical Center School of Surgical Technology in 2003, following his father and his grandfather, Llewellyn Cooper, who was a surgeon.

"He loved what he did. It was an excellent (career) choice," his mother said.

His sister, Brooke, worked in the operating room with her brother. She is now a labor-and-delivery nurse at Maine Medical Center.

"He loved everything about life," she said. "He got up every morning with a plan for some type of adventure."

And he never lost hope that someone would find a cure for ALS, a debilitating disease that caused him to lose control of his hands and arms.

"He really hoped that one day he'd wake up and he'd be OK," his sister said.

Mr. Cooper loved the outdoors. He spent time rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, surfing, mountain biking and fly-fishing.

Christopher LaCasse of Portland was one of Mr. Cooper's childhood friends who shared in many of his adventures.

The friends rock-climbed in Arizona, climbed mountains in Montana, and worked as river rafting guides in Maine.

"Brett's life was an adventure. That's just the way he lived," LaCasse said. "He lived a very full life, but he was very young."

His mother remembers the gift her son gave her one Mother's Day -- a whitewater rafting trip down the Kennebec River.

"I was absolutely terrified," she recalls. "He said, 'Trust me, Mom.'"

At Mr. Cooper's request, a celebration of his life will be held in the spring, when the weather is warmer and the sun is shining.

"He wanted people to have an opportunity to tell stories," his mother said, "and I'm sure there will be lots of stories to tell."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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