Leaving Home

Leaving Home

Move to Maryland takes Cooper Dawson from his family home.

For more than 160 years, Coopers and Dawsons have lived on the same land on Quaker Lane.

That changed earlier this month, when 93-year-old S. Cooper Dawson Jr. left the family home for an assisted living facility in Maryland. He left behind friends that will miss him and a city better for his having been here.

Franny Dawson, Cooper’s wife of nearly 58 years, was excited by the move. "We’re moving to a retirement community in Salisbury, Md., because that’s where our daughter is," she said. "We will have our own little cottage and it will all be on one floor. That’s what I’m looking forward to."

Cooper was less excited. "I was born and raised here," he said. "I don’t want to leave. This has always been my home and I don’t see why I should leave now."

<b>DAWSON’S FAMILY</b> has owned the property since 1837, when Gen. Samuel Cooper purchased it.

"When he went to Richmond during the Civil War, it was confiscated and his house was torn down," Cooper said. "After that, a fort was built that was named Traitor Hill but later named Fort Williams by some of Gen. Cooper’s friends."

After the war, Gen. Cooper returned to his land and lived in what had been slave quarters. Finally, in 1908, Cooper Dawson’s father built a better home for his family. That is where, in 1909, Samuel Cooper Dawson Jr. was born. That house is no longer in the family.

Growing up in Alexandria, young Cooper spent his time playing in the woods on the family’s property and attending Camp Greenbrier, a summer camp for boys in Greenbrier County, W.Va. "I started going to Camp Greenbrier in 1925," Cooper said, "and haven’t missed many summers since then," first as a camper and then as an owner.

He graduated from Episcopal High School in 1927, referred to in a 1929 yearbook as "the diminutive outfielder on the baseball team." After graduation from Episcopal, Cooper attended the University of Virginia, where he studied business. He graduated in 1932. "I just had my 70th reunion last summer," he said. "And my granddaughter Elizabeth graduated from Virginia then."

Franny was there, too. "Cooper always says if you didn’t go to Virginia, you didn’t go to college, so he was really pleased with Elizabeth," she said.

<b>COOPER RETURNED</b> to Alexandria, and to Episcopal. In 1938, Oscar Ryder was a student at Episcopal and Cooper was his football coach.

"He coached the cake football team," Ryder said. "I remember that he was a great coach and always had a tremendous sense of humor. I don’t remember whether we won much but I do remember Cooper."

Another friend from that time is Elizabeth Hooff, who still lives just up the street on Quaker Lane. "Cooper and my husband Charlie were great friends," she said.

The two grew up together, and visited each other throughout their college days. "I met Cooper when I would come down to visit with Charlie’s family and when they came up to Philadelphia," Elizabeth said.

Some of the visits revolved around college football games. "In those days, the University of Pennsylvania used to play the University of Virginia in football," Elizabeth said. "I remember once when Virginia won and the fans tore radiators out of hotel rooms and threw them into the street. That was pretty terrible."

Cooper was in Elizabeth and Charlie’s wedding in 1935. "I remember that they all had a lot to drink at the rehearsal dinner," Elizabeth said.

Then World War II came, and Cooper joined the U.S. Navy. He met Franny when she was on her first honeymoon. "Cooper and my husband were friends," she said. "We met when I was on my honeymoon."

After her husband died in a plane crash, Franny wrote to his friends. "Cooper was one of those friends," she said. "We stayed in touch and he came to visit me in Atlanta. I saw him again when I visited my family in Washington."

The couple was married in 1945, but they were separated shortly after the honeymoon because Cooper left on a ship for Japan and China.

<b>IN 1946,</b> Franny and Cooper finally returned to Alexandria. For the next 20 years Cooper was manager of the Pendaw Motor Hotel, owned by Cooper’s father. "My father built the hotel in 1927 and at the beginning, he had eight rooms," Cooper said. "Six months later, he added eight more rooms and we finally ended up with about 45 rooms and a swimming pool. We sold it in 1967."

After that, Cooper became the business manager at Episcopal High School. "I fell into that job," Cooper said. "I was on the board of trustees at Episcopal High School and I was going over there a lot."

The business manager on staff, from Long Island, wasn’t up on "what was what down here," Cooper said, and he helped the man navigate local businesses.

"I walked in there one morning and the business manager had had a heart attack," Cooper said. "He was in the hospital for a while and came home for a couple of weeks and everybody thought he was doing fine. But then he had another heart attack and didn’t recover from that one."

Cooper became the de facto business manager, working at the school four or five days a week, until the headmaster offered him the job. "One day the head master walked in and said ‘well, do you want this job or don’t you," Cooper said. "I told him that I wanted it but I had to have eight weeks off in the summertime to go to camp." He took the job, got his eight weeks off for camp and stayed for 15 years.

<b>CAMP, BY THEN,</b> was Camp Alleghany, a camp for girls, next to Camp Greenbrier in West Virginia. In 1961, Cooper sold his interest in Camp Greenbrier and in 1963, bought an interest in Camp Alleghany.

Allison Ariail Erdle grew up in Alexandria, and spent 10 summers at Camp Alleghany first as a camper, then as a counselor.

"Cooper was the grandfather of us all," she said. "Cooper reigned with tough love, but it was just the type of affection that tamed the wild children and made the innocent, timid ones of us more independent and assertive."

With Franny’s help, Erdle said, Cooper ran Camp Alleghany like a well-oiled machine, and carried on traditions begun by earlier owners, which Erdle’s mother remembered from her time as a camper in the mid-50s.

Cooper "presided over it, usually in his orange or blue corduroys with alternating blue or orange shirt," she said. "He is and always will be a Wahoo man."

When campers figured out what it meant to be a Wahoo, she said, "you either were dying to go to Virginia or you didn’t want anything to do with it.

With Cooper and Franny Dawson in Salisbury, their house in Alexandria is being sold to a developer who would like to build several houses on the lot. "We’ll be back, though," Cooper said. "And we’re going to camp again this summer.

When he does, the girls will sing the song written for him many years ago, still sung lovingly by campers every year.

"Cooper Dawson now we raise a cheer, for we are always glad to see him here. He keeps our Alleghany on the ball, and we love him cause he is the best of all. And when he comes we all strike up a boom, Cooper Dawson we all love you so, yes you know we love you."