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Chris Cooke
Chris Cooke
Chris Cooke was the superior court judge in Bethel, Alaska for ten years and he tells a story about taking Dr. Sata (a psychiatrist who was a presenter at a judge's conference) on a tour of Bethel and how much the judge enjoyed his visit. He also sings a song about the important role the bush pilot plays in the villages of Alaska.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-27-01

Project: Bethel Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Jan 26, 1996
Narrator(s): Chris Cooke
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
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Story about showing Dr. Sata around Bethel

Song Chris wrote about a fictional bush pilot

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I'm Chris Cook and I've lived in Bethel for 25 years. I've lived in Alaska for about 28 years. I'm not even sure that I remember the original question or that we're answering it but it probably doesn't matter.

Although I think the question had something to do with why are you here?

What's significant? What's important about being part of this community and so forth.

And in thinking as I could see the microphone working it's way down toward me and it probably was going to find me.

I was thinking, what am I going to say and the best thing I could come up with instead of a statement that answers the question is, well, let me tell you a story.

And the story that I would tell to respond to that question is this.

When I was the superior court judge here for 10 years and every year the judges, all the superior court and district court, supreme court judges in the state get together somewhere for a judicial conference once a year.

And I think our conference this particular year was in Sitka. The subject of the conference was to try to deal with, or try to make judges somewhat sensitive or aware or at least expose them a little bit to people of other cultures.

Cross cultural communication issues. You know, some people actually felt that judges didn't under -- didn't actually know everything that there was to know.

Especially about people who were different from themselves which was most everybody in every other, you know, ethnic group in the state other than white anglo saxon.

But so anyway, we had a number of presenters coming to this conference and there was a moderator who was a psychiatrist of Japanese American descent named Dr. Sata, who was coming from Washington University in St. Louis.

The organizers of this conference thought it might be a good idea before Dr. Sata took over at this conference to give him a little bit of an Alaskan experience before he went to Sitka.

So they said, they called me up and they said, you know, can you meet Dr. Sata, he's coming up a day before this conference and he wants to, we need to show him a little bit of Alaska so we sent him to Bethel.

You know, trial by fire I guess. And can you take him around and, you know, spend a day with him and so forth. I said sure. So he came out and we went around Bethel.

I'm sure you've all done the sort of Bethel tour. It was summer time. We got into a boat. We went down to Napakiak and stopped off at Napaskiak at my wife's aunt’s house and had tea.

Visited -- walked around the village and came back and into the brown slough where we parked the boat and took him back to our house, put him on the plane and sent him back to Anchorage.

And so about three days later I showed up at the judicial conference and this assistant, director of the court system came up to me and she said, what did you do to Dr. Sata?

I said, what do you mean? He loved Bethel.

So that's the end of the story I guess. But I don't think the judges learned a damn thing but the conference but Dr. Sata had a good time.

And I guess the only thing I also want to add that I can think of, is what Paul, and I and Phyllis were talking earlier about Bethel is the kind of information you get about a blind date that you have in college.

I was thinking about a blind date, you know, well what does she look like? You're really gonna like her. Well, what does she look like? She's got a great personality.

Diane Carpenter: OK, why don't you lead into that, Chris?

Chris Cooke: Things people were talking about brought to mind a song that I wrote several years ago which is -- talks about a person, unlike what these guys were saying, this is a fictional event.

About an emergency flight, a rescue situation and -- and, of course, it tells a story of something that never happened

but it -- like, if it works, its a story, when you write a song like that that's close enough to things that could happen or did happen

to make it credible so that maybe people will listen to it a second time.

It was 10 below, it was blowing snow, when the radio message came through.

This is Toksook Bay. We need a plane today. Emergency rescue.

There was an air of gloom in the radio room as the doctor heard the health aide say. We have a sick little child, pain and fever drive her wild.

We need emergency rescue today.

Then the call went out to the Eskimo scouts, would a pilot volunteer for a dangerous flight on this stormy night?

And up stepped Buddy McClear.

He was born on the land, half Scot half Indian.

As a pilot he knew no fear.

He put extra gas on board to fly longer in the storm, land and refuel if a break should appear.

It was 10 below, still blowing snow when the radio message went through.

Tell Toksook Bay, Buddy's on his way. Emergency rescue.

Well the hours went by there was no reply on the radio from Buddy McClear.

Atmautluak heard him pass, Kasigluk heard the last of that brave young aviator.

Well, he might have gone down and been buried by the storm or he might have been lost at sea.

Though they searched for days they never found a trace of his plane or his gear or Buddy.

But the child pulled through as children do and by Christmas the following year, there were six village boys playing with airplane toys and named after Buddy McClear.

It was 10 below, it was blowing snow when the radio message came through.

This is Toksook Bay. We need a plane today. Emergency rescue.

This is Toksook Bay. We need a plane today. Emergency rescue.