‘I wasn’t everybody’s friend’: Mike Cook on his impact on the Cloverdale, provincial and national legions

Cook spearheaded PTSD program, local headstone project

In the early 1970s, the Cloverdale Legion was having trouble with money.

Judy Cook’s father, Jack Jolleys, a WWII navy man, went out to find the answer. He took sheets of financial statements to his daughter’s new husband, Michael Cook, and told him to figure it out.

The newly married Cook wasn’t part of the legion. He had never been part of the Canadian military. But he had a way with numbers, and he had a knack for business.

He sat down with the legion’s financial statements, grabbed a pencil and an adding machine, and set to work.

The problem, Cook found, was the wholesale beer purchases didn’t match with the sales in the bar. Somehow, the legion bar was purchasing more beer than it was selling, partially through over-filling glasses. And the Cloverdale Legion wasn’t the only one.

So back in the early ’70s, Cook developed a computer program to figure out how much beer was going missing, and how much it cost the legion. And he took that program to other legion branches, “because there were a couple of branches that were getting into financial difficulties,” he said.

Without him hardly realizing it, Cook had become an integral member in the business of the legion. He got involved with the Cloverdale Legion’s anniversary party, using some of his business contacts as a Shell gasoline wholesaler to get the retired lieutenant-governor to present some awards.

“I like to [say that] I got railroaded into it,” he said, “but I guess if you’re interested, you try to help out.”

Cook did a little more than help out. He worked his way up through the executive, becoming legion president in 1985, then moved up to the provincial executive as a financial advisor and eventually president.

As provincial president, he travelled all over the province visiting local legions.

“I think I missed about three branches out of 172,” he said.

He was then elected to the dominion command, which is the nationwide legion body. At that time, Cook decided to eschew the presidential positions and stick to finance, “because politics gets a little difficult when you’re dealing with all across Canada,” he said. He spent 14 years working at the dominion level.

In all of his positions, Cook didn’t try to be “a real nice guy.”

“I wanted to do the proper job,” he said. “If some people didn’t like it, then don’t vote me in.”

The proper job, in his opinion, was to treat the legion like a business.

At the dominion level, he created a new financial program, which allowed the dominion to give a more detailed financial report for every section of the legion. But it wasn’t always easy to get the rest of the executive on board.

“I wasn’t everybody’s friend back there [in Ottawa] because I laid it out,” he said.

The struggle to get the executive to agree to his budget restrictions influenced Cook’s decision to retire from the legion.

“I felt like I was beating my head against a wall trying to get them to acknowledge the fact their revenue stream had dropped,” he said.

His health also pushed him to retire. As treasurer, he was travelling to Ottawa 8 to 14 times a year, which was difficult for the now-75-year-old retiree.

Not all of Cook’s projects in the legion were grounded in finances. He was an integral part of getting the UBC veteran’s PTSD program off the ground, and he was involved in a committee to put new headstones in for veterans in a local cemetery.

“I walked that whole cemetery,” he said about the beginning of the project. He was given a list of veterans, and checked them off the list when he found a headstone.

“I identified that there was some empty spaces, yet they had a name of the person, but no headstone.”

Cook went to three levels of government to get headstones for those missing veterans, but ran into problems with bureaucracy.

In order to get a federal headstone, there needs to be proof that the person in question served in the Canadian military. These men had fought in the First World War, and their records of service were held in a building in London — which burned down in the Second World War.

There was nothing the government could do. So the Cloverdale Legion paid for the headstones, and made them look as close as possible to the federally issued graves.

That project “really brought us back into the public eye here,” Cook said. It was the project he was most proud of during his nearly 50 years with the legion.

For now, Cook is taking a step back. He still volunteers at the provincial level, and he’s involved in some committees. But if you’re looking at your glass of legion-bought beer and wondering if it’s been poured right, don’t look to Cook. He fixed that a long time ago.