James L. Cooper, founding partner of the Cooper Levenson law firm in Atlantic City, died Saturday. He was 87.
Cooper was born Nov. 2, 1929, in Atlantic City. He graduated from Atlantic City High School, Rutgers University and Rutgers Law School, where he was editor of the Law Review.
He established his law practice in 1957.
In 1966, Cooper took a leave from his firm to volunteer with President John F. Kennedy’s Lawyers Com- mittee For Civil Rights.
He was co-chairman of the successful campaign in the late 1970s to amend the state constitution to permit gambling in the state.
Lloyd D. Levenson was in the Prosecutor’s Office during the 1980s when he started looking to move into private practice work. Levenson started at the bottom of then Cooper law firm.
Levenson handled any case in the office the other lawyers did not want to do, and he worked his way up.
Levenson said Cooper was one of the most pivotal people in his legal career.
“They don’t make people like that anymore,” Levenson said.
Levenson remembered Cooper as charitable and civic minded.
“He stood up for the underprivileged and those people discriminated against,” said Levenson about Cooper’s work in the South. “He went down there for a decent period of time. He volunteered his legal abilities. That’s the kind of person he was.”
Cooper gave both of personal and financial support to economic, cultural and civic development projects in the region over the years, most notably, the redevelopment of Historic Gardner’s Basin and the building of the Ocean Life Center Atlantic City Aquarium.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said Historic Gardner’s Basin is one of the few places in the region where there is truly a mix of people of different races, ages and incomes, which is what Cooper wanted.
“We worked very hard,” Whelan said. “It’s a loss to the community.”
Through Cooper’s work as foundation chairman of Atlantic Cape Community College, the college’s popular annual restaurant gala has raised more than $1 million for scholarships.
Cooper was a generous man with a huge heart, who believed in access to education, said Jean McAlister, executive director of the Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation.
“We are forever indebted to him for what he has done for our students,” McAlister said.
Cooper is the president emeritus for the Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation, McAlister said.
Under Cooper’s leadership, the college’s restaurant gala grew from a small community event to almost 1,000 people attending, McAlister said.
“I will miss him dearly, so will the college, the foundation and out students,” said McAlister, who added students wrote him letters thanking him for their scholarship money.
Cooper served as a visiting distinguished professor at Stockton University in Galloway Township. He was deeply committed to Atlantic County and will be sorely missed, said Stockton President Harvey Kesselman.
“On behalf of the entire Stockton University community, we are deeply saddened by the loss of James Cooper,” Kesselman said. “Jim was a supporter and friend of the University, including being honored by Stockton’s Council of Black Faculty and Staff in 2007 with a Lifetime Achievement Award,” Kesselman said.
Cooper’s social consciousness extended into his 80s, Levenson said. He started the Let Us Eat Please organization to provide food to those in need in his latter years.
Cooper set the tone of helping the underprivileged and the elderly, and the both the lawyers and the staff at the firm followed in his footsteps.
Cooper was predeceased by his wife, Lorraine, and son, Kevin. He is survived by his fiancee, Arlene Halpern, his daughter, Cynthia, and her partner, Dr. Gwen Engelhard, seven nephews, one niece and a special friend, Dr. Patricia Walker.
Please send contributions to Let Us Eat Please c/o Cooper Levenson, 1125 Atlantic Ave. Atlantic City, N.J. 08401 or Atlantic Cape Community College Kevin Cooper Memorial Scholarship Fund, 5100 E. Black Horse Pike, Mays Landing, N.J. 08330.
Funeral services will be private. Shiva will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the bay at 7809 Bayshore Drive, Margate.