Petworth resident and activist Lois Y. Cooper has garnered a reputation as a writer and documentarian with neighborhood news blog articles and two films about D.C. history and culture. Her latest project, however, focuses on the woman she said played a major role in her success: her mother, Catherine Cooper.
Cooper’s literary work “Momma Said: Words of Wisdom and Love” honors the Cooper family matriarch by telling her story of trial and triumph, and compiling her many words of advice on which the author, her seven siblings, family members, friends and neighbors have often relied in the several decades before Alzheimer’s and dementia silenced her.
“These were just life lessons that made sense that I mostly didn’t listen to [as a young person],” Cooper said of her book, released shortly after Mother’s Day.
On July 25, Cooper will host an author’s meet-and-greet at the 11th Street branch of the Signal Financial Credit Union in Northwest.
“In hindsight, I can understand that if I would have listened, I’d be much farther in life now,” she said, reflecting on her coming of age in the Cooper household. “I was a fool doing God knows what in the streets, but I remember finally coming to my senses and telling my mother I wish I would’ve been a better daughter.”
In “Momma Said,” Cooper organized her mother’s quotes into various subjects: life, truth, faith and death.
The book also includes a compilation of articles that the author wrote about her mother, her impact on her community, and her struggles with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Each chapter has at least one Bible verse, testimonies from friends and family, and several family photos, including one of her mother with D.C. Councilman Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) during her 100th birthday celebration.
After learning about Catherine Cooper, readers can tell their story with a “Legacy Workspace,” a portion of the book in which they can answer several questions about their life, family and memories.
Catherine Cooper, who turns 102 in December, was born and raised in South Carolina to a family that owned and grew crops on several acres of land. She and her husband John M. Cooper, also a South Carolinian, moved to the District after World War II and set up roots in the Deanwood neighborhood of Northeast.
Out of a desire for spacious accommodations, and against the wishes of a realtor steering them toward Trinidad and Ivy City, the Cooper family, then eight children strong, later moved to 16th Street Heights in Northwest where Mrs. Cooper lives to this day.
In 1968, three days after Christmas, Mr. Cooper succumbed to heart failure and hypertension, leaving the widow Cooper with eight children, five younger than 18. In “Momma Said,” Lois Cooper said her mother never wavered in her commitment to family, working in the D.C. government until retirement age, and continuing the serve the community several years after as a volunteer in the D.C. Senior Companion Program.
Though she acknowledged that all of her mother’s quotes carry equal weight, Cooper said one particular mantra bears incredible importance: “If you wait until the time is right you’ll never do anything. You just have to step out on faith.”
She said she passed that advice on to her daughters, one of whom recently purchased a home in D.C. after a daunting process.
“Stories matter,” she said. “There’s nothing like a first-person account. Why wait until we’re dead and people have to piece together our lives? I don’t want this to be a memorial. I want this to honor my mother. Everyone who’s read the book said it was an easy read. It gives people a chance to talk about their experiences.”