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Terry Cook, world renowned archivist, dies at 67

May 20, 2014 — 

A collection of elegies written by Dr. Terry Cook’s friends


Dr. Terry Cook

Dr. Terry Cook

In the world of archives, Dr. Terry Cook, Associate Professor for the Archival Studies Program in the Department of History from 1998-2012, was an international giant among archivists. He died May 12, at age 67, after a short battle with cancer, in Ottawa, surrounded by his loving family. The University of Manitoba Archives and I were some of the first to tweet the sorry news and we watched as word ripped around the world from country to country. The archival community was shocked and dismayed. And it was sad for us here at the University of Manitoba, that we could not see more of him before his untimely and tragic death.

Oh what would he still have accomplished had he lived!  During his life he wrote over eighty articles, several books, edited and co-edited several more, and was a long time editor for both Archivaria, the professional journal for the Association of Canadian Archivists, and American Archivist of the Society of American Archivists. In his first job at the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) from 1975 to 1998, he directed the appraisal and records disposition program for all media. During this time he developed unique methodologies including macroappraisal, which since has achieved international acceptance. He left the national archives to serve at the University of Manitoba while at the same time maintaining a lively consulting practice. He was key note speaker at conferences all over the world.  He was the recipient of the Society of American Archivists’ Fellows’ Ernst Posner Award in 2002 and was named a Fellow of the Association of Canadian Archivists in 2009 and of the Royal Society of Canada in 2010.  Archivists talk about his “brilliance,” that he was” inspirational,” and “distinguished.”

But really, what Terry Cook will be remembered for in addition to his scholarship, was his wonderful support and care for individuals. I met him in the summer of 1982 when I did my internship at the Public Archives in the National Photography Collection. Even though he was not my immediate supervisor, he took me under his wing and encouraged me to begin writing for the profession.  He set me off on a lifetime of archival investigation. I sent him children’s funny valentines in thanks for a few years after we met and in true archivist’s fashion still have his reply to the second valentine in 1985, with his thanks, his news, his drawings. What once was a treasured, amusing communication now has the power to make me weep.  In the 32 years since we met, he always had an encouraging word for me, and many people have a story about how he helped them in some way. He was a role model and mentor and a friend and we will miss him.  How lucky we were to have him as long as we did!

Dr. Shelley Sweeney, Head, Archives & Special Collections


Compared to many archival studies programs in Canada and around the world, the program at the University of Manitoba is considered small. If there are 8 students in a given year that is considered an enormous class. As a result, there is a real fellowship that binds students and faculty of this program – a strong sense of community that is almost akin to a family. That feeling of camaraderie is fostered by the close relationships we are able to develop with our faculty, who genuinely always seem to have our best interests at heart as we develop into fledgling professionals. We rejoice in each other’s successes and are there to support one another when times get rough.

This week we are mourning a death in the family. For 11 years (2000-2011), students in the Archival Studies program at the University of Manitoba had the honour of being taught by a true legend in the profession.  Terry Cook was an internationally renowned scholar and consultant whose academic credentials were rivalled by few in the history of the profession. And he taught here! He taught me! But to us students, he was never “Leading Archival Theorist Dr. Terry Cook”, he was always just Terry.  He challenged us intellectually but always related to us personally. Despite being a pre-eminent archival theorist there was not an ounce of pretension in the man.  I remember our coffee breaks in St. Paul’s College where he would unleash his encyclopaedic knowledge about rock and roll, especially Elvis. His home was in Ottawa but when he’d stay in Winnipeg to teach he would forego fancy hotels and call the Capri Motel on Pembina his temporary home – no doubt a fan of its retro style. I remember writing my final exam on the concept of macroappraisal. Terry wrote in the margins something to the effect that I had an excellent grasp on the topic, which I remember thinking was unbelievable considering this guy conceptualized the freaking thing!

As I progressed through my coursework, and then throughout my career, I came to realize just how fortunate I was to know Terry. He was always generous in time and spirit. I enjoyed the occasions I had to chat with him – at conferences or before classes at the Archives. He always had kind words for my family and me including sending congratulations notices upon the birth of my children. Upon learning of his cancer diagnosis last year, we emailed a few times – this was my attempt at supporting him after all the support he had given me over the years.  He was of course unfailingly positive about this final stage in life – facing death with the same intellectualism and grace that he shared with us all in life. On behalf of all the students Terry inspired, encouraged, and genuinely cared for, I offer my heartfelt condolences to his many friends and family. He will be sorely missed.

Brett Lougheed
MA (Archival Studies), University of Manitoba (2005)


By the time I was hired as an archivist at Library and Archives Canada, Terry had been out of the organization for some years. I nonetheless felt his influence through his publications, through official policies, like macroappraisal, and by getting to know him personally. During my years at LAC I would meet Terry from time to time over coffee, or run into him at retirement parties and other functions. Terry took an interest in my own research and publications, asking probing questions and encouraging me to publish or to present at conferences. For me, like many others, Terry was a mentor.

He was a daunting role model. Author of a string of publications that shaped Canadian archivy, peerless in their significance and volume, he left his imprint on LAC as archivist, manager and administrator, and shaped the next generation of archivists through his teaching at the University of Manitoba. I had the chance to watch him lead a three-hour seminar on ethics in the fall of 2012. Disarming the class with humour, stories and choice examples from throughout his career, he quickly and carefully established the extent of his students’ knowledge and proceeded to build upon it. It was a masterful performance.

As a friend and a mentor, Terry was always there. Tap out an email and he would get to it, sometimes quickly and sometimes a little later. Send him a paper or course syllabus, and he would come back with suggestions both minor and major, some for the moment, some of them pointing to future opportunities and directions. Generous in his praise, he encouraged new scholarship and new ways of thinking, emphasizing complexity over simplicity, nuance and fluidity over static certainty. He understood, and helped others to see, the true complexity of archives and the human relationships that lie at the core of the field. His scholarship will remain, but we will all miss his voice and his heart.

Greg Bak, Archival Studies MA program

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3 comments on “Terry Cook, world renowned archivist, dies at 67

  1. R Connie Wawruck-Hemmett

    so sorry to hear of Terry’s passing. My heart goes out to Sharon and the rest of his family. He will be sorely missed by many, including those in the academic community who so appreciated his labours.

  2. Brian Masschaele

    I will never forget sitting with him in the park beside 344 Wellington (then part of the National Archives of Canada) where he provided me with critical advice and support on my thesis for the archival studies program. It’s a rare person who can leave such a lasting impact in such a short period of time. I feel very fortunate to have known him over my career. My sympathies to his family and to Tom Nesmith who has lost a very close friend and colleague. Regards, Brian Masschaele, MA (Archival Studies), 1995

  3. Frank Mkhize I

    I am deeply sad about the death of this giant. I met him when he visited south africa in 1994 to deliver a keynote address on macro appraisalsed. I saluted the man. He developed a scientific methodology on appraisal of records. I will always honour his intelligence . Frank Mkhize south African

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