Les Cooper (1929 - 2016)
Les at the opening of the "new" clubhouse at Pocklington, 1984
by Jon Smith (Wolds GC Club Manager 1993-1994, CFI 1998-2001)
It is with a heavy heart that I write this news of the passing of Les, one of the most popular, inspirational, influential and important members in the history of the Wolds Gliding Club.
An entire book could be written about Les. We now only have a couple of members remaining who were around when he joined the club - we believe it was in the mid 1960's. Many of our more senior members and instructors nowadays who joined in the early '70's were instructed by him.
From the early '70's Les served in various roles on the committee, including a very successful period as chairman. He was extremely motivational in the decision at that time to purchase the freehold of our airfield thus securing the club's permanent tenure. In those days our current position must have seemed out of reach to most people but it was Les's vision that drove this ahead and is allowing us now to reap the very rich rewards of his policy, the loans for the land having been paid off many years ago. He was also very practical and indeed responsible for much of the club's existing infrastructure. Our first club house was originally a wooden bungalow in South Cave that had reached the end of it's natural life. Les was the prime motivator in organising large working parties to collect and re-erect it on the airfield; this served as our club house for another 25 years and was only superseded by our current luxurious brick-built club house, the financial foundation for which can largely be attributed to Les's careful guidance years ago.
Oh - he did actually have a proper job too, his career was in the police force and for over 20 years was an officer in the traffic division as a patrol car driver. His driving skills were sufficiently above us normal mortals' such that a trip in a car with Les could be strangely unnerving in an oddly very calm way! There are rumours from the old days of on the odd occasion, out of necessity a patrol car being put to very good public use by towing out the winch cables down the runway!
In his (supposed) retirement in the '80's Les saw the opportunity to successfully develop the club further with a professional dimension - he became our club's manager and employed staff to run the airfield full time including the provision of holiday courses. There were only one or two of the very biggest clubs doing that then and it was almost unheard of for a club of our size to do so. As a holiday course provider we needed a bunk house, so Les built one - and very good it was too! This was when I first met Les - he employed me as a youthful 19 year old to be the summer holiday course instructor. That period of the late '80's/ early '90's was the heyday of gliding holiday courses and Les capitalised on it fully; we ran courses for six months each summer and every one was always fully booked in advance. For me, Les quickly evolved from employer to gliding colleague to close family friend.
Many of our current members joined during this period. Les was "always there" and was usually the first person a new-comer to the airfield would meet. Such was his infectious enthusiasm and genial personality that for any member of the public setting foot on our airfield it was rather like entering Aunty Wainright's shop in Last of the Summer Wine (but in a very nice way!). They would always leave with something, usually having experienced a flight in the K7 and more often than not would leave as a fully signed-up new member!
Les was a very talented pilot. He was the first person to complete a Diamond Goal from Pocklington, finally gliding home after a number of very low scrapes! On 18th April 1980 during a club expedition, he started and finished one of the most memorable day's flying from Portmoak. An early morning of beautiful wave bars over the loch encouraged Les to round up a tug pilot and launch at 8.0am and achieve his Gold Height, returning to allow his syndicate partner to have a go, whom along with others achieved their Diamond Heights. On this same day Dave Benton climbed his Nimbus from Portmoak to break the British height record. During the afternoon the wind strength and turbulence made ground handling unsafe so launching was stopped for the day. Late in the afternoon however the wind eased a little and Les persuaded the winch driver to give him a launch. In the gathering gloom he contacted wave over the Loch at 700' and nipped up to get his own Diamond Height, returning for supper with Audrey. When his successful Diamond Height claim was returned it was annotated "By the skin of your teeth...."!
Other legendary memories abound. As mentioned he was practical; his syndicate DG100 needed a new trailer so he built one, a considerable amount of angle iron was involved as with many of Les's projects but it would have survived a nuclear attack and towed beautifully (with a big car!). We all remember the fantastic story of when during a club expedition to Portmoak one of our K7's "landed" on top of the Bishop (hill). The locals said "burn it, you won't get it down". The word "impossible" was not in Les's vocabulary so he arranged a working party to collect it, driving his Vauxhall Cavalier plus trailer as far as possible up the mountain then carrying the K7 long distance in pieces across moorland and stone walls!
Many members remember learning to thermal with Les in the K7 - you knew you were doing well when pipe smoke started to drift forward from the rear seat! So many of us have fond memories of the hospitality and wonderful meals provided by Les and Audrey in the club house over the years during club events, holiday courses and their fantastic barbecues for evening groups - barbecues cooked on a converted oil drum in a converted garage, all of which Les built of course!
Of the many many tributes to Les on our club's Internet forum, members describe him as the "father" of our club (Audrey of course is our "mother"!) and nearly all said that they were "introduced to gliding" by him. He was superbly articulate, a true wordsmith, with his own endearing style of writing that benefitted the club enormously, especially with his successful way of dealing with all forms of external officialism! He had forged a unique relationship with most local landowners, businesses and dignitaries during his police service which was also of much benefit to our club. He was the master of the one-liner too; I always remember Les - who enjoyed an "occasional" glass of red wine saying one day he'd heard that American scientists had statistically proven that drinking two glasses of red wine a day would halve the risk of health problems in later life. So he would therefore drink four glasses a day and eliminate the risk altogether!
Whilst no single individual should ever be regarded as being bigger or more important than a club itself (we have had and still have quite a few very significant and valuable people over the many years), I truly feel that without Les having been there the club would certainly be very much the lesser and poorer today.
Our deepest sympathy to Audrey and all the family.
An abridged version of Jon's obituary of Les will appear in Saliplane and Gliding, October 2016