Nuclear cowboy, local cop

Bakersfield man lived two lifetimes

Tom Benton

By Tom Benton

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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BAKERSFIELD — To understand the effect of a sit-down with Bakersfield’s Perry Cooper, try to imagine walking into the editing room of the zonkiest Indiana Jones movie — without a script.

Which scene comes first — his time as a twenty-something supervisor of highly classified early submarine engineering? Or his attempts to use drawings to transcend the language barrier while designing a processing plant in Seoul?

And where does his stint as Bakersfield’s “Trooper Cooper,” the town constable, fit in? Or his nights as Franklin County musical legend John Cassel’s tech guru?

And how can one draw a straight line through these several lifetimes’ experiences to one man, Cooper, now 85, still a towering six feet and four inches tall, living in a renovated barn from the 1860s just off the Bakersfield line?

Cooper doesn’t bother. Instead, he organizes his life in two halves.

During the first half, he was “uber-responsible,” Cooper said.

“I can’t think of any [situation] where the responsibility I had could really be much higher, as far as the ability to harm other people,” he said.

But the second half, which began when Cooper travelled to Vermont in the early 1970s, was the opposite: “irresponsible.”

“When I looked at [what had come before, I thought], ‘Ah, I don’t have to prove myself anymore.’”

Looking at Cooper’s early years, one can see why.

To read the rest of Perry Cooper’s story, pick up a copy of the weekend Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.