The only thing bigger than Orbie Cook was his love for Jacksonville High School.
That and his heart.
At 6 feet 3 inches tall and tipping the scales at 400 pounds in his prime, the Jacksonville native dwarfed everyone else around him, both in size and in school spirit. For decades Cook was almost a force of nature who rallied his beloved Jacksonville High football and basketball teams to victory by leading cheers at every game pep rally.
“If you took school spirit and molded it like a piece of clay, a big piece of clay, it would be Orbie,” said Eric Key, a 1982 Jacksonville High graduate. “For everybody he was that symbol for victory.”
Cook died at his home in Jacksonville Thursday. He was 62.
Cook graduated from Jacksonville High in 1973, his support for the school never wavered. At every pep rally for about 30 years without fail, Cook was there, ready to lead the student body in his own personal cheer.
We don’t mess!
We don’t mess around, hey!
“He was the unofficial mascot, just this huge, hulking presence,” Key said. “People would go crazy over it … it was just this surreal thing.”
Chuck Cummings, a 1980 Jacksonville High graduate, said he could still easily remember the excitement of the students when Cook entered the old high school gym to lead them in cheers.
“It was like a celebrity walked in the door when he came in and stepped up to the microphone,” Cummings said. “It didn’t matter what the football team’s winning record was, he got everybody worked up to a fever pitch.”
Chris Roberts saw the excitement first hand as a student and as a writer for the Jacksonville News in the early 1980s. Roberts, who graduated from Jacksonville High in 1983, said students would scream Orbie as soon as he entered the gym on Fridays. Roberts said it was Cook’s good nature and friendliness that made him so loved by generations of Jacksonville High students.
“There was a general sweetness to him and that you knew this was what he lived for,” Roberts said. “The student body lived for him for a few minutes every Friday before football games.”
When he wasn’t at games Cook, who never married, worked mostly at the Anniston Army Depot. The middle child with two sisters, Cook also spent his time collecting Coca-Cola and University of Alabama football memorabilia.
“He was an avid Alabama fan; just a walking, breathing encyclopedia of Alabama football,” said Dorothy Cook, Orbie’s younger sister.
Dorothy Cook said she had to care for her brother in recent years because of poor health, which kept him away from games. He was confined to a wheelchair in 2013 when several Jacksonville High alumni gave him a “lifetime spirit award.”
“He had been in the hospital and was in rehab,” Dorothy Cook said. “He was very grateful and surprised.”
Dorothy Cook said her brother was a kind person who loved everyone he met, and of course, his alma mater.
“His loyalties were so strong to his school,” she said. “That’s what made him so happy.”
Graveside service for Orbie Cook will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Greenlawn Memorial Gardens. Online condolences may be made at www.klbrownfuneralhome.com.
Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.