Life with Father
Fallon residents who did not know James “Shag” Cooper personally would be surprised to know of his two sides.
One side portrayed him as the life of the party, a man at the center of attention; the other side showed a devoted husband and father who doted on his daughters and grandchildren.
Father’s Day this year will take on a special meaning, however, for sisters Bridgett Gray and Pam Simar. Bridgett graduated from Churchill County High School in 1989, and Pam followed in 1992.
Although their father lost his life in April because of a motorcycle accident near Virginia City, they said the memories of him during their childhood and his love and guidance will stay alive like an eternal candle.
Bridgett, the older of the two daughters who lives in Round Mountain, said the news of their father’s fatal accident stunned them and those who knew James “Shag” Cooper.
“It caught us off-guard,” said Bridgett, her voice choking. “Many of his friends couldn’t believe it.”
Yet, when the funeral service was held for Shag, mourners crowded into the Smith Family Funeral Home chapel while others in the back stood. The outpouring of love and friendship overwhelmed Bridgett and Pam, who still lives in Fallon.
“We thought nobody really cared or gave a damn, but were we surprised,” Pam said of the packed service.
People from all walks of life and from both Northern Nevada and out of state attended the one-hour service. Many then headed to the Northern Nevada Veterans Cemetery where the decorated Shag was interred.
When the daughters sorted through their father’s photographs and personal items after his death, they shared some tears, some laughs. One photograph, though, caught Pam’s attention.
“We’re going through the pictures and I saw a photo of him and Mr. (Bert) Serrano (a high school history teacher) when they were out in the wilderness,” she said. “I didn’t realize they knew each other.”
The 67-year-old Cooper was well known in the community, having lived here for decades. To his friends, Shag was spontaneous and outgoing; to his daughters, he showed a compassionate side that Bridgett said was unknown to many. This is the side of their father that made both Bridgett and Pam proud of their dad.
“He enjoyed life to the fullest,” Bridgett recounted. “He never knew a stranger because he would go up to him and start talking. He also had a top hat (one black and the other gray), and when he wore it people would go up to him and start talking. He was outgoing and talked to them about anything.”
Bridgett said her dad loved people, but he also had a special bond with his daughters and grandchildren. He would occasionally visit Round Mountain to see Natalie, Bridgett’s only child, or remain in Fallon to play with Pam’s three children, 11-year-old Logan, 5-year-old Ashton and 2-year-old Ruby, named for her mother and good friend Kara Kelly, a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper who died in an accident in 2008.
“He was a jokester a lot of the times, but he was also a strict dad,” Bridgett remembers.
Bridgett thought for a moment and said he showed a strict side with the grandchildren.
“When they did something wrong, he didn’t hesitate to tell them,” she said. “But he was always supportive … and would ask Natalie about her report cards.”
Pam said Shag could be very opinionated and obnoxious, but around them and the grandchildren, he was different and liked to show a softer side. She said her father took the grandchildren to dinner or to the park or to his Fallon home. Pam said his grandchildren loved him dearly.
“He had a swimming pool at his place during the summer,” she said, adding that all of the children loved to splash in the water on a sizzling day.
These events and others like them make Bridgett and Pam miss their father every day.
“We know he’s dancing with my mom in heaven,” Bridgett said.
Not only was he a devoted father, but Shag was also a devoted husband, having been married for almost 45 years before his wife, Ruby, died in 2009. Bridgett said they married in 1969 after her father left the Army, where he served a tour in Vietnam
“He met mom in Texas and married her two years later,” Bridgett said. “They came back to Fallon because our grandparents were here.”
Bridgett also said their father rarely discussed his service in Vietnam, but he was a member and big supporter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
While Shag supported various organizations and causes and loved to ride his motorcycles, his devotion centered on family. With both girls involved in playing softball when they were younger, they said he always attended the games and provided them with fatherly support and advice. Pam played on the Sonics team for 10 years and also on the junior varsity team in high school Bridgett eventually played varsity.
Shag, though, continually ensured his daughters studied hard and earned good grades.
“We always had to do our homework,” Pam said, with a slight chuckle.
When they weren’t on the diamond, the Cooper family headed to Lahontan Reservoir with friends to camp and water ski. It was those other trips that Bridgett also remembers in detail
“We went on a lot of trips to Sand Mountain or Austin to get our Christmas tree or hunting for pinenuts,” Bridgett said, adding they frequently traveled to Texas and slept in the camper.
Looking back at their father’s life, both daughters said they learned many life lessons. Pam said he encouraged them to do what they wanted to do and not worry about what others thought
For Bridgett, his words spoken years ago still remain clear and concise.
“Think for yourself, and if you start something finish it,” she said.
Bridgett pondered for a minute, giggled and recited a physical characteristic, which her father handed down.
“He was so head strong that he instilled that in my sister and me,” she laughed.
Pam said she still wants to call her father every now and then, thinking he is only on vacation.
Silence followed her thought.
“He was the life of the party,” Pam recollected. “But he was also happy to have two daughters. He never thought about having a boy.”