Tribute to a Rural Health Hero: Jerry Coopey

The rural health community lost a long-time friend last week with the passing of Jerry Coopey. Jerry was an employee of HRSA and one of the first members of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. I met Jerry when I attended my first NOSORH Annual Meeting many years ago. That was when we had a lot of enthusiasm, but very little funding, and the Flex program was something that we hardly dared to dream about. Jerry was one of the first people that I met all those years ago, and it was a little difficult to comprehend this man who was dressed impeccably, communicated in DC jargon, knew and talked to everyone (whether they agreed with him or not), and had a strategy to grow what I came to know as the rural health movement.

Jerry became a dear friend to me and so many others. He believed deeply in peace, justice and humanity. He loved to talk to people and actively sought to understand them, no matter their position or beliefs. He was a fierce advocate for equality and thought that it was often better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, particularly when trying to make change within the federal bureaucracy.

It was Jerry’s vision to have an Office of Rural Health in every state. He facilitated the development of organizations that contributed to the movement, including a group to organize and advocate for the offices (NOSORH), a grassroots structure to advocate at the state level (state rural health associations), a platform to help states with recruitment and retention (3RNet), and data to make the economic case for rural health (Rural Health Works). He helped create the camaraderie that we have today and loved to have as large a group as possible go to dinner, where he would walk around the table talking to everyone and sampling their food as he went.

It is difficult to imagine a world without Jerry. While I am fairly certain that rural health work would have happened in some regard, I know without a doubt that the rural health community that we have today is a result of his vision and personality. Thank you, Jerry, for your advocacy, for your love of people, and for your friendship.

Karen Madden
New York Office of Rural Health