Michael Cooper’s law office on Main Street in Salado has the furnishings and appointments of most small-town attorneys: French doors, a high ceiling, tasteful artwork, the de rigueur certificates and awards hung on the walls.
But for Cooper, there’s one framed piece that is closest to his heart. “It’s from the queen of England,” he said, the pride evident in his voice.
The regal recognition was awarded to Cooper for his August appointment as a member of the Order of St. John, a prestigious international charity that provides first aid, health care and other support services in more than 40 countries. The order is an official Order of Chivalry of the British Crown, hence the commendation from the queen.
Cooper is no stranger to public life; he’s a past alderman and three times mayor pro tem for the village, but he said the induction ceremony in the French Gothic St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City was a humbling experience.
“There were about 1,500 people there,” he said. “I’ll never forget it.”
One of Cooper’s friends, Wayne Baccus, nominated him for membership in the humanitarian charity. After a rigorous and lengthy vetting, “after all, it’s sanctioned by the queen herself,” he said, Cooper traveled to Manhattan in November to join 29 other inductees for the formal ceremony.
The order’s primary mission is to support the St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, established to meet the needs of a population where eye disease is rife and effective treatment difficult to obtain. Since its founding in 1882, the apolitical hospital has treated all those who come to it without regard to race, nationality, religion or ability to pay.
“The doctors are from all over the world, they are of any (religious) denomination, and spend time at the hospital without pay — all volunteer,” Cooper said. “In the old days, members of the order were known as ‘hospitalers.’”
His memory of the awards ceremony is vivid. “They call you up one by one when you’re inducted, and they pin what’s known as the symbol of the order, the Maltese Cross, on you.”
Cooper joins a distinguished roster of Order of St. John associates: Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
His goal is to help raise money for the organization, which treated more than 114,000 patients in 2013.
“It’s just a great honor,” Cooper said. “The spirit of common purpose remains alive.”