My friend Rob Cooper, who has died aged 59, was a disability campaigner and fundraiser, Labour party activist and lover of music, the arts, culture and sport.
Rob was born and educated in Cardiff. He was the adopted son of Sid Cooper, who worked in a local steel plant as a pickler, running the metal through acid to remove impurities, and Jean (nee Davies), a football pools company clerk. Rob played rugby into his late teens, but in his 20s he developed chondromalacia patellae and both his kneecaps were removed. This initially meant he had to use crutches, and later a wheelchair.
Rob devoured literature and became an expert on cinema, theatre and music as well as sport. He regularly organised theatre trips for friends, and one year got to Wimbledon centre court.
I first met Rob when I acted as his solicitor in 1988. For six years he had been fighting for mobility allowance. Together we persuaded a tribunal that he was virtually unable to walk, and won six years’ backdated allowance. After that I could not shake him off as a client. We became close friends.
Fighting the benefits system turned him into a disability campaigner. He joined the Labour party, beginning a new chapter in his life by volunteering for Julie Morgan, who was elected as MP for Cardiff North in 1997, and Sue Essex, elected a Welsh assembly member in 1999. Advising Julie and Sue on disability issues, working in surgeries and accompanying them to events, he brought Richard Attenborough, Richard Wilson and Prunella Scales to Cardiff North to campaign for Labour. He persuaded Scales and Tim West to perform there and the tenor Dennis O’Neill to return year after year with an entertaining opera programme, all to raise funds for Labour.
Rob gave his time to help others, serving as a primary and secondary school governor and supporting the charities Toc H, Vision 21 and Macmillan Cancer. Julie Morgan’s annual Macmillan coffee morning, now in its 16th year, was his big event. He took great pleasure in Julie nominating him in the South Wales Echo’s search for the greatest Cardiffians in 2015.
Rob’s parents both died in quick succession around Christmas 1999, leaving him living alone – a huge blow for which he was quite unprepared. Over the following years, he developed diabetes and eventually kidney failure. Having a great sense of humour, he remained cheerful. In 2015, only weeks before he was due to have amputation surgery, and although he was plainly unwell, he organised a coffee morning for the Welsh Kidney Patients’ Association, intending this to be an annual event, too. A huge admirer of NHS Wales, he praised its treatment of him.
Above all else, Rob valued his friends. He called them his family. In the eight months he was in hospital before he died, they operated a rota ensuring he had at least one visitor on each day including Christmas Day. These friends miss him greatly.