Thomas Henry Cooke, Jr.

Former Mayor Thomas Henry Cooke, Jr. passed away on May 18, 2020.
During the decades Thomas H. Cooke Jr. spent as an elected leader in New Jersey, his city, East Orange, fell on hard times. As a two-term mayor, his focus on restoring the city’s tax base brought the New York Times and network TV reporters across state lines to cover his campaign against slumlords. But the tough-talking politician was also a sentimental man who doted on his immediate and extended family.
Cooke was born on October 13, 1929 and spent his early years in rural Bishopville, South Carolina. His parents, Thomas Sr. and Julia Cooke, moved with him and his siblings to Baltimore’s Bruce Court in search of a better life. Cooke, following a path set by his older brothers, served in the military as a sailor. Then, like his older sisters, he earned college degrees after attending Morgan State in Baltimore and New York University. During those years he met and married Audrey Wilson and the couple raised three children.
Mayor Cooke’s professional career began as an educator in the Newark public school system and included elected terms and leadership positions on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and East Orange City Council. He was also a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and National Council of Black Mayors. He was the second African-American elected to lead East Orange as mayor.
There, in addition to his fight against slumlords, he worked to stabilize taxes. He collaborated with housing advocates and tenant leaders as he recruited businesses willing to invest in the bedroom community. His administration presided over the construction of housing for seniors and the public auction of foreclosed properties.
After leaving public office, Cooke worked as a charter school administrator in Jersey City.
Late in life, Cooke had a series of health challenges that required hospitalization. After a lengthy illness, he died in hospice care on May 18. The cause was COVID-19.
Cooke is survived by his daughter Julia, son Thomas III, sister Anne Wilson Johnson, brother Wilbur, and dozens of grandchildren, great grand children, nieces and nephews. His wife Audrey died in 1995 and daughter Bonita died in 2007.
Visitation on Friday May 29, 6pm-9pm at Cushnie-Houston Funeral Home, East Orange. Funeral Services on Saturday May 30, 12:00pm. Interment Rosedale Cemetery. Please express condolences at: