In memory of Richard Cook

We are very sorry to announce the death of one of our founder members, Richard Cook, and we express our condolences to his wife Liz and all their family.

Richard and Liz Cook selling their own homemade "piroshki" at the Russian stall at the Cambridge Food Fair in the Market, 29th June 2003

Richard’s long association with Russia and its language, people and culture began in the early 1950s when, as a student journalist, he first visited the Soviet Union as part of a National Union of Students delegation. During this and a later visit to the World Youth Festival he formed friendships that were to last a lifetime. The experience of being present during a memorable ‘Meeting with the writers’ in Leningrad, at which both Akhmatova and Zoshchenko were subjected to humiliating questioning, remained vivid in his memory despite his lack of Russian at the time, and his eloquent and moving account of it was later published (in English in the Newcastle University student magazine Northerner, December 1954, and in Russian translation in the Moscow literary journal Znamya, December 1993). For the rest of his long and immensely varied and interesting life he was a regular visitor to the USSR and Russia.

Richard (in his Russian "budyonovka") and Liz Cook in Hinchingbrooke Park, at the Mushroom Walk, 8th November 2003

Richard was brought up in a working-class family on Teesside and remained a strong socialist all his life. He spent his career as an NHS dentist, but his interests and talents ranged far beyond the sciences into food and drink, music and literature, family and friends, writing, translating and reviewing. After taking up Russian he acquired a wide (and colourfully colloquial) vocabulary; his extraordinary recall of unusual and obscure phrases rarely failed him and he could also quote from a number of Russian literary classics. This made him a great asset in the Russian classes he attended in Cambridge, where the breadth of his knowledge was greatly respected by other students. He was also a skilled chef, brewer and bread baker, and his authentic chebureki and samogon (which led to his nickname ‘Richard samogonshchik’) never failed to delight. He was a passionate mushroom gatherer and could recognise and name as many, if not more, varieties than most Russians.

Richard and Liz had many Russian friends (and family, too, through Richard’s first wife Kate) who visited often, and when the idea of a Russian-Speaking Society was mooted in the late 1990s, the Cooks kindly hosted one of the first Russian-themed parties, which acted as a springboard for further events. Richard also had an unsurpassed knowledge of Moscow topography and later gave a fascinating presentation to a large CamRuSS audience. He and Liz remained staunch and enthusiastic supporters of CamRuSS events, and their hospitality at home in Cottenham was legendary.

Richard was an eccentric and outspoken, yet kind, gentle and amusing man who was held in great affection by all those who knew him. He will be greatly missed.

Alison Wilson, on behalf of CamRuSS

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