A Chance Meeting

Sally Williams Cook ’74 started her career writing for newspapers and national magazines, including an Associated Press column titled “Kids.” Her job consisted of interviewing very famous and influential people, such as President Jimmy Carter and actress Meryl Streep. But it wasn’t until a chance meeting with a football coach that she made a pivotal change to her career and became a book author.

Cook remembers meeting Coach Gene Stallings and being touched by his heartwarming story. “I had no experience in writing books, but I was moved by listening to him. I just jumped right in because I was compelled by his amazing story,” Cook remembers.

Cook said that what struck her most about Stallings was the fact that he was an unlikely ambassador for disability. The father of four girls and one son, Stallings was hailed as a crusader for people with disabilities, as his only son had Down syndrome. At a time when people with physical and developmental disabilities were often institutionalized, Stallings refused to bring his son to a facility and was determined to keep him at home with the rest of the family. Stallings became an advocate for his son and did a lot of work with the United Way. Cook said, “I don’t do anything in life unless it hits a nerve for me, and his story moved me in some way.”

Publishing her first book, Another Season: A Coach’s Story of Raising an Exceptional Son, in 1997 was instrumental in transforming her into a creative nonfiction writer. The book, co-written by Stallings, was featured on the New York Times Bestseller List, as well as in Parade Magazine and on The Today Show. Since its publication, she has published several children’s, young adult and adult books.

Much of Cook’s success is credited to her Colby Junior College experience. As a high school student, she was in a graduating class of 800 in a New Jersey suburb. Often feeling lost in the shuffle, Cook was looking for something different for her college experience. Her guidance counselor suggested CJC and, having never visited New Hampshire, she and her family made the trip to campus to check it out. Cook remembers, “I absolutely loved it from the moment I arrived.”

Some of her fondest memories were with some of her favorite professors: Professor Hilary Cleveland and Professor Tomie dePaola. She said, “Professor Cleveland made my government and history classes come alive. It was amazing. Professor dePaola was my theater teacher and published his first book while I was there. The quality of the professors was unbelievable and very student-centered. I thrived in the small class environment.”

Since leaving Colby Junior College, Cook has lived in New York City with her husband. She has two grown children who live in close vicinity of her home, and she enjoys frequent visits with both of them. Cook is currently working on an authorized biography about Maureen Connolly — an American tennis player, born in 1934, who won nine Grand Slam competitions before the age of 20. Cook enjoys researching Connolly because she had a spectacular career and overcame a tremendous amount of tragedy. “This is a book about resilience,” said Cook.

Cook’s advice to future Chargers is this: “Live your life with your eyes open and follow your passions. I feel very fortunate that I chose this career. It has taken me to such interesting places, and I have learned from many people. And I credit the junior college for rediscovering myself.”