Teen’s parents recall his life, impact

‘Cooper Day’ a reminder to say ‘I love you’

Contributed Photo
Ouachita County Quorum Court passed a resolution regarding water safety in memory of Cooper  Daugherty.
Contributed Photo Ouachita County Quorum Court passed a resolution regarding water safety in memory of Cooper Daugherty.

Life starts with a birth date and ends with a death date, but the dash in between those dates are what really matters. It's a cliche saying but an accurate one.

No matter how young or old someone is when they transition, memories of the good times remain.

While it was hard for the community to say goodbye to Cooper Daugherty last spring, it was evident that despite his young age, he made the most out of his dash.

Cooper died in March, when strong currents pulled him from the Ouachita River banks and under the surface of the water

Daugherty's parents, Bob and Jill, spoke to the Camden News about their son, his influence on his friends and family and how, through his selfless actions, he has taught a young generation of Camden students about what really matters.

When asked what Cooper's closest friends would say about him, Bob and Jill almost simultaneously said "Cooper's rule."

"Cooper's Rule is telling people you love them before you left their presence," Bob explained. "Every time he left the house he would say 'I love you.' My parents didn't say that. Jill's parents did. I'd be in the Lay-Z-Boy and I'd ask him where he where he was going. We always gave him the freedom as long as he was in by midnight. He had his typical kid fun, but man, he was such a great kid. That Sunday, he grabbed his swimming trunks and I didn't think to ask him where he was going. He said, 'I love you.' 'Cool, I love you back.'"

"We always said I love you when he would leave and stuff and he started saying it to his friends," Jill shared. "It just kind of became a thing. He would say, 'Hey, I love you man' to his friends, and it was okay."

The Daugherty's credited Cooper's friend Brooklyn Kelley for coining the phrase. From there, the mother of another one of Cooper's friends' bought a large amount of Cooper's Rule wrist bands and a lot of students wore them to prom.

"I wouldn't see (Cooper's Rule) as a legacy; it's more like the new norm now," Bob added. "Kids had the high-5's and the cool hand shakes, but now its Cooper's Rule and there's nothing wrong with it."

Cooper's birthday, July 19, in now known as Cooper Day to remind people to say 'I love you.'

His friends would say hes funny - a character. Always there for them too.

"That represents him well," Bob said in regards to Cooper Day. "There would be kids without cars and things and Cooper would always do what he could for them. He and his friends would go out to eat and one day he tells me, 'Dad, I think it's my turn.' He was going to pay for their food because they would pay for his."

Bob said Cooper's selflessness went hand and hand with the community he was raised in. The family moved to Camden in 1999 from San Diego. Bob said that his job had given him an option between Tuscon, Arizona and Camden.

"I had been to Tuscon before; I hated it. It was too hot and fat guys don't like it," Bob joked. "We came here and it's been wonderful. It's a great place to raise kids. I think about the other times when tragedy has happened here. This community has lost young kids before and everyone just pitches in to offer support. They do it whether they know you personally or not. You see how the community has supported families after a loss before and you hope it doesn't happen to you, but it ends up happening and they are there for you just like they were for them. I just don't know what to say about this time. It's incredible."

Jill shared a portrait of Cooper that was presented to the family during dinner one evening. She said the family friend wasn't asked to do it, but did it out of the goodness of his heart. Because of Ouachita River's reputation, another family friend suggested that the family should go down to the River with a priest and bless it.

"There had been three accidents down there and they all occurred so close to each other," Bob said. "My friend said we should do it. We got our Priest Beth Waldrup and went down there and thankfully since then hasn't been another death down there."

Sherri Steelman led a group of concerned individuals to form Cooper's Law, which recommends personal flotation devices for everyone on the river and calls for the implementation of throwable flotation devices at all public access points including Tate's Bluff, Sandy Beach, Britain, Riverwalk, Frenchport Landing and Spoon Bend.

Signage designating danger levels will also be placed at points along the river.

A local ordinance to implement Cooper's Law passed unanimously among the Ouachita County Quorum Court.

  photo  Contributed Photo Cooper Daugherty

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