A tale of three brothers A fascinating story about how three brothers went in very different religious directions.
By Len Buller Dr William Glanville Lau Cook was Secretary of the Rationalist Society for 38 years. He was known as a friendly, energetic, intelligent, clever bon-vivant, who had a wide circle of friends and was the Editor of the Rationalist for many years. He was the middle brother of three very able men, who reached the highest positions in their chosen field. Their parents were Methodist. Their father was Rev. R. Osborne Cook and their Mother, May Cook (no relation) came from a fine Methodist family in Wandiligong. They began their work together as missionaries in Fiji, and they had five children. The family consisted of Viti, Leigh, Bill, Hal, and Vivian (Viti and Bill were born in Fiji). On returning to Victoria in 1910, Osborne was sent to country circuits, accompanied by the family. Family life centered around the church - all day on Sunday, and no cards, no dancing, no alcohol. The days started with prayers at Breakfast, and grace before meals was sung in Fiijian. Osborne died in 1923, which threw the family into very difficult circumstances. Leigh had to leave Wesley College to work in a bank. The family could not afford for Bill to go to Wesley; a place was found for him at Melbourne High School. After the death of the grandparents, however, Hal was able to attend Wesley. At that time, the three boys were committed Christians; Bill was Secretary of the Student Christian Movement at Melbourne High in his final year. They all studied Arts and Theology at the University of Melbourne, but only Leigh was ordained as a minister with a Master of Arts. He was a minister for ten years in country towns, and then served two years in the Army and 10 years at Wesley College as Chaplain. Controversy caused some family tensions. The Methodist Conference was responsible for the work in Victoria and Tasmania and reports were received that all was not well at Launceston MLC. The long standing incumbent Headmistress was dismissed and Leigh was instructed to become the replacement due to his educational experience. Controversy However, there was a problem. The Headmistress, Gwendoline Madder, was Bill’s sister-in-law. Bill was outraged. He did not speak to Leigh for many years although they reconciled their differences in 1967. Leigh went on to be the Founding Master of the Methodist Kingswood College in the University of Western Australia, and the Executive Director for the National Council for Independent Schools. He was awarded an AM for his work, and was a Paul Harris Fellow in the Rotary Organisation. He died in 1996.
Meanwhile, although Bill was studying at the University of Melbourne, his ideas were changing. He did not finish his degree. He became a Rationalist and trained as a teacher. Working in country towns he organised debates, and read widely. When he and his wife returned to Melbourne, he joined the panel of Beat the Brains on 3DB, with Barry Jones and Stephen Murray Smith. This was a competition in which the listeners sent in questions they thought the panel would not be able to answer. It was very popular. Bill answered the Biblical questions; each program had several. In 1940, Bill was appointed full-time Secretary to the Rationalist Society and remained on the pay roll until 1952, after which he remained on as Secretary. He had reorganised the Rationalists and the membership grew from 40 to 2000. He made many international contacts, and organised many public meetings. From 1957-1972 he taught at Mount Waverley High School. He became a marriage celebrant, and those who used his services were always very pleased with the form of words used. One could meet Bill at his regular meetings in the Mitre Tavern in the 1940s and at the Cafe Latin in the 1950s. He was given an honorary doctorate by the San Gabriel College at the university of Los Angeles in 1963, and from then on was known as Dr Glanville Cook. Bill died in 1983. Hal, the younger brother, began studying theology with a view to becoming a minister, but he, too, changed, turning to psychology. He won a scholarship at the University of London and went on to get a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Kansas. He wrote on child guidance and was instrumental in the emergence of the Australian Psychological Society. Hal then joined the Federal Department of Labour and National Service, rising to the position of Permanent Secretary. When the Whitlam government was elected, however, Clyde Cameron was appointed Minister. He sacked Hal, the first time a permanent head had ever been removed from office. Hal was then appointed as special labour advisor, with ambassadorial status, to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva and went on to become chairman of the Executive Council of the ILO, the first time a person had been chosen from the Pacific region. In 1976, Hal was knighted. He died in 1990. - Len Buller is a member of the RSA and runs the RSA’s monthly Think Tank in Melbourne. He married Pamela Cook, Leigh’s Daughter.
AusTrAliAn rATionAlisT | Summer 2016