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Cook, Thomas B., Jr.

Posted: Fri 1:37 PM, Jan 03, 2014
Funeral Home: J.C. Kirby & Son Lovers Lane Chapel
Dr. Thomas B. Cook Jr. of Pleasanton, Calif., passed away suddenly at home the evening of Dec. 27, 2013, at age 87. He was retired from Sandia National Laboratories, and was the longest-serving vice president of the Sandia/California laboratory.

Tom was born in Rich Pond, Ky., the son of Willie Ethel and Thomas B. Cook Sr. He graduated from Bowling Green High School, Western Kentucky State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics, and Vanderbilt University with both a master’s and PhD in physics. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944-46; then married Virginia Preston in 1947.

At age 24, Tom, hired by Sandia in 1951, was the youngest PhD on staff in Albuquerque, N.M. His scientific talent and managerial skills were recognized early as he moved from section to division supervisor, then to department manager, all within eight years. He was promoted to director of physics and mathematics research in 1962, then vice president of research in 1967, and next was chosen to head Sandia at its Livermore, Calif., site in 1968, a position he held for 14 years. Following that he was promoted once more, to executive vice president back at Albuquerque until his retirement in 1986. He and his wife Virginia then returned to their home in Pleasanton, Calif.

During his career, he received numerous awards and honors. In 1971 he was given the prestigious E.O. Lawrence Award by the U.S. Department of Energy. Other recognitions include being elected to the National Academy of Engineering, given the DOE Distinguished Associate Award, named a Fellow of the American Physical Society, chosen to be chair of the Vulnerability Task Force for the Defense Science Board, and selected as a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, the Department of Defense Scientific Advisory Group on Effects, and Steering Task Group of the U.S. Navy Strategic Systems Office. He was also a member of the Sigma Xi Honorary Research Society. In 1986 he was commissioned a Kentucky Colonel. After retiring he served as a consultant to numerous other governmental agencies as well as major U.S. industries.

Former Sandia/California vice president Mim John, who worked at Sandia while Tom was vice president, offered these comments: “Tom represented everything that has always been the best of what Sandia stands for. He lived the lab’s motto of ‘exceptional service in the national interest.’ His technical accomplishments were instrumental in establishing the Nation’s defense strategy, so much so that his peers recognized him with election to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest honors in the nation’s science and technology community. He was a pioneer in diversity, hiring and nurturing technical women and minorities at Sandia in the ‘60s and ‘70s well before other organizations. He also recognized in the ‘70s the need for Sandia/California to expand its portfolio of programs. A very visible and enduring testament to his foresight is the internationally respected Combustion Research Facility, which he effectively defended in its start-up phase from both internal and external challengers while the technical team got it off the ground.”

Tom is survived by his loving wife of 66 years, Virginia; son Dr. Thomas B. Cook III, of Princeton, N.J.; daughter Shelley L. Cook of Pleasanton; grandchildren Dr. Hilary H. Cook of Miami and Jeffrey H. Cook of Austin, Texas; and brother W. Wilson Cook of Bowling Green. He was preceded in death by his parents.

A private burial at the family plot will be provided by J. C. Kirby and Son Lovers Lane Chapel of Bowling Green.
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