Harold Vansanden Cooke was born on January 24, 1927 in Sungei Besi, Kuala Lumpur into a family of Ceylonese Burgher descent.
His father Eric William Cooke had left Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as a young man for Malaya, where he met and later married his cousin Elsa Mary Foenander in 1918. Elsa was the daughter of Eric’s aunt, Maud Eunice Cooke and her husband Marcus Theobald Foenander.
Harold was the fourth of Eric and Elsa’s six children. He had three brothers, one of whom died at the age of two, and two sisters. His older sister Elena Cooke served for two decades as the headmistress of Bukit Bintang Girls’ Secondary School in Kuala Lumpur.
Harold and his siblings grew up secure and safe in a loving family. Their playground was the gardens that surrounded their house on a hill in Sungei Besi. The Scriptures were read at mealtimes and before bed, and the children learned to pray from an early age.
The Cooke family were members of Venning Road Chapel at Venning Road, Kuala Lumpur, which subsequently relocated and became Jalan Imbi Chapel (JIC) in 1962 when the Bluff Road site was required for the National Mosque. It was a Christian Brethren Assembly which had happy fellowship with missionaries from Britain, Australia and America, and British soldiers as well as Christians from Ceylon and locally.
After World War II, the family moved to Ipoh where they joined Elim Gospel Chapel. Harold was baptised as a teenager at Elim Gospel Hall and played a leading role among the young people there. He had his education at Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur. He subsequently went to England to qualify as a chartered secretary.
Career-wise, he was manager/Secretary of MEAGL (Malaysian Estate Agency Group Ltd-Rubber Plantations) and later, manager at J A Russell & Co Sdn Bhd, owner of the Boh tea plantations.
He married Ivy LaBrooy and they had two children, Rodney and Veronica.
As elder of Venning Road Gospel Hall in the early 1960s, Harold Cooke was the main negotiator with the government to swap the Venning Road Gospel Hall site for the current Jalan Imbi site, with the church receiving part compensation from the government for the building of the Chapel. The re-location took place in 1962.
The JIC Elders chose the plot in Imbi Road because it was close to the Bukit Bintang Girls’ School (BBGS) so that the girls could easily walk over to the church. Between Harold Cooke and Elena Cooke who was the principal of BBGS, there began a ministry to young people in terms of growth in the Christian faith. He would often lend his expertise when it came to the landscaping of the school grounds.
He was appointed as the "Agent of Foreign Company" to act for Stewards Company Limited after the home call of Mr D. A. Angus in 1980. He acted as its agent in Malaysia for the purpose of filing returns to the Registry of Companies. Mr Cooke's appointment was submitted to The Registrar of Companies on March 27, 1981 by Mr Ang Chui Lai of Sothi & Ang. Stewards Company Limited looked after the properties of all Brethren Assemblies in Malaya at that time.
Harold Cooke was one of the subscribers and first directors of the Christian Brethren of Malaysia Property Trust Limited for the formation of the property trust. The Memorandum & Articles of Association of the Trust was signed and dated June 9,1962. The company was incorporated on July 3, 1963. He was also the first Company Secretary of the Company. He ceased to be a director of the Trust on January 27, 1988. The Christian Brethren of Malaysia Property Trust Limited took over the role of Stewards Company Limited after its formation.
Cooke received visits from many elders of Assemblies throughout Malaya. The following Assemblies in Kuala Lumpur were set up as follows – Ampang Gospel Centre (1974), Bangsar Gospel Centre (1976), Cheras Gospel Centre (1982), Taman Tun Dr Ismail Gospel Centre (1986), Kajang Gospel Centre (1988) and Setapak Gospel Centre (1988).
He established discipline at JIC and was well-known as someone who held firmly to his principles. JIC had a vibrant young people’s work and the membership grew rapidly. Many young people grew in their knowledge of God’s Word and later became leaders in churches throughout Malaysia and other parts of the world.
He was an avid gardener and looked after the gardens at JIC, donning his working clothes and hat every Saturday evening to mow the lawn, sweep the floor and tidy the Chapel so that the church would look its best for the Sunday worship meeting.
With the plurality of leadership in JIC, he was the leading elder in terms of his clear teaching, management of funds of the church, hospitality, pastoral care of the membership, and his oversight of the expanding work of Assemblies in Malaya. He was constantly in demand as a speaker not only in JIC, but also in the various Assemblies in the Klang Valley and in the Christian Fellowships in schools.
As treasurer of JIC, he taught the members the principle of tithing and going beyond the 10%. He also began the “Project Funds'' which helped many Assemblies to purchase or renovate their buildings or start new places of worship by providing them with interest-free loans. The funds at JIC were carefully managed and the church gave generously to smaller Assemblies and to full-time workers. He led the church in many of its charitable efforts locally and abroad.
He introduced systematic Bible teaching in JIC in which all the books of the Bible were covered over a five-year period as well as selective and relevant subjects for pulpit ministry.
He was at the forefront in dealing with the Assembly split in the early 1960s that gave stability to the Assembly remaining in JIC. The split had to do with some members who preferred to follow the principles of the Close Brethren Assemblies. He took a firm stand with regard to the charismatic movement in the Assemblies in the early days. Towards the latter part of his life, he seemed to have softened and had warm fellowship with a number of Christians from the charismatic churches.
He was invited to join the Evangel Book Centre committee in September 1968 by Jack Clingleffer, David Graham, Dr Low Nan Wan, Yeoh Seang Wan and an OMFer. This centre became the sole supplier of Christian literature for the region for many years.
In 1972, Cooke established the Keswick Convention Kuala Lumpur Committee which consisted of himself as chairman, Goh Keat Peng and Wong San Tosh. Using the school hall in BBGS, JIC hosted the Keswick meetings for the Kuala Lumpur-Petaling Jaya-Klang Valley area for many years. This benefitted the Christian community at large.
With the large numbers of girls coming from BBGS into JIC, he saw the need to establish the ministry of deaconesses and in 1974, he co-opted a few ladies to become deaconesses in the church. These deaconesses would meet regularly with the elders and deacons at their monthly meetings.
He mooted the idea of Inter-Brethren Assembly work and began the Combined Easter Meetings for the Assemblies in the Klang Valley. This led to the IBA Conference where issues facing conservative Assembly teaching were discussed. From this the IBA Sports was begun, an evangelistic tool through which many young people were reached.
A historian at heart, he kept the story of the Brethren movement in Malaya in files in his library. At major events, he would get a team of young people to help him produce articles to highlight the history of JIC in the development of the church in Malaya. He was able to provide The Star newspaper with photographs of Walter John Piachaud Grenier and his wife, Lydia Irene Van Langenberg. Walter Grenier was a public figure, a committee member of the then Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board, an outstanding man, an elder of Venning Road Chapel and someone who made an impact on Harold Cooke’s life. Jalan Padang Walter Grenier was named after him.
Despite his stern look, Cooke was a gentleman with a sympathetic heart and was compassionate in helping those in need. He looked out for those posted to Kuala Lumpur for work or studies and provided for them. His home was open to all and many young men had the opportunity to spend a weekend there to browse through his library and to learn from him.
Cooke retired as an elder about 2005 when ill-health overtook him. After more than four decades of ministry as an elder, he went on to glory on March 24, 2006 knowing that he had left a legacy of a church well-founded with a solid library, accounts in order, buildings intact and with a team of leaders to take over the work after him.