Coole, Douglas P.

1898 - 1979
Educator and missionary

Rev Douglas P. Coole was born on December 21, 1898 in Lancaster, Kansas. He graduated from Baker University and Boston University School of Theology, USA. His father, Dr Thomas H. Coole, was a medical missionary sent to Foochow, China. Dr Coole was the dean of Foochow Christian Union Hospital (known as the Willis F. Pierce Memorial Hospital from 1938).

From 1906 when he was eight until 1913, Rev Coole and his brother, Arthur, grew up in Foochow and Kutian. Rev Coole picked up the Kutian dialect there and when he was posted to Sitiawan in Perak, Malaya, in 1925 and later to the Sibu Foochow Settlement in Sarawak, he had no problem with spoken communication.

Rev Coole married Mamie (Polly Coole) in 1924. The following year, they were posted to Sitiawan. In 1929, at James Hoover's request, he was designated as missionary to Sibu for a year. Yuk Ing Girls' School was then under the supervision of Mary Hoover and another small English school was under the late Mr Chong Jin Bok. From 1930 till 1941, Rev Coole served in Malaya.

Rev Coole was of the opinion that Malaya, several thousand miles away, would not be affected by the war in China. By the “war in China”, he might have been referring to the Japanese invasion of China that began in 1931. He also believed that if the war were to spread to Malaya, Singapore - as a strategic naval base of the British then - was in a position to defend Malaya. 

When the Japanese army eventually invaded the Malay Peninsula. Rev Coole joined the civil defence force in Kampar, Perak. Soon after Kampar fell to the Japanese, Rev Coole moved to Singapore to join the air defence force. After Singapore also fell, Rev and Mrs Coole were posted to India from 1941 till 1946. He became a professor at the Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur, which was set up by the Indian Methodist Church in 1922.

During this period, Rev Coole was also the chaplain of the British forces in India. In 1944, the U.S. mission headquarters wanted to send him to Foochow but because the coastal areas were controlled by the Japanese, he was unable to go. 

In November 1952, 23 years after he was first posted to Sibu, Rev Coole was designated as the principal of Methodist School, Sibu. That year, the Methodist Primary School celebrated the completion of a new classroom block in memory of James Hoover, whose far-sightedness contributed much to the development of education in Sarawak, especially in the Third Division. The building was donated by Methodist Church members in Nebraska and Kansas. 

The Methodist School was divided into five sections: the Chinese department with junior and senior secondary sections; and the English department with primary and secondary sections and night school. There were over 1,000 students and both departments had their respective deans. The dean of the Chinese department, Tang Chung Sing, later obtained a scholarship and left to further his studies and Dr Ling Eng King became the dean for both English and Chinese departments. The primary and secondary schools were later separated and in 1954, the secondary school had an enrolment of about 1,200. 

As a Christian school, the Methodist School had religious classes and the boarders had 15 minutes of nightly prayer sessions. The aim of the religious classes was to convert the students. Every week, both the English and Chinese departments held their respective school assemblies and the students were eager to attend. There were various types of extra-curricular activities such as drama, sports, debate and public speaking.

In July 1953, the new classroom block for the Methodist Secondary School was completed. The project was supervised by Leighton Wiant

In a report, Rev Coole described the opening ceremony: “The dedication ceremony of the Methodist Secondary School new school building was held at 3:00pm on the 25th June 1953. Bishop of Methodist Church Raymond LeRoy Archer (October 31, 1887-July 3, 1970) and other distinguished guests were invited. The wife of the Third Division Resident A.R. Snelus officiated the opening ceremony. Witnessing the occasions were the church leaders, guests from education sector, government officials, local community leaders, the teachers and students.”

Rev Coole also noted that friends from Methodist churches in Nebraska donated USD100,000 for the building while the Sarawak government through the Education Department allocated funds for the science laboratory equipment.

Named Summers Memorial Building, the new building commemorated Summers, the missionary who had come from Nebraska and died in the Japanese concentration camp in Singapore.

Rev Coole was officially appointed as the principal of the secondary school, a post he held until June 1957. 

In 1955, Rev Coole was assigned to lead the English service of the Masland Church, and that was the beginning of the Wesley Church. That year, he took three months’ sick leave because of liver disease.

In 1956, Rev Coole left for the USA for furlough and leave. There are no records of when he returned to Sibu. However, some records showed that he obtained his PhD  in theology from Baker Theological College. The Sarawak Annual Conference 1964 record showed that he was appointed the treasurer and auditor. 

Rev Coole spoke fluent Foochow. On top of their church ministry, the Cooles were active in community activities. Rev Coole set up the Sibu Rotary Club in 1964 and was the first president. He also set up the Boy Scouts at the Methodist School.

Aside from serving as the secretary of the Trustee Board of Sarawak Methodist Church, he was also the field treasurer of the Mission Board for 15 years. He also presided over the meeting of the National Women's Society Christian Service (W.S.C.S.). Mrs Coole was good at oil painting and gave some of her paintings to different churches. The Telok Assan Doh Ang Methodist Church in Sibu still kept a copy of her work.

Rev and Mrs Coole returned to the US on leave in 1966, a year before his retirement. He had served as an educator and missionary in Asia for about 40 years

In the US, he served as curator of the Old Castle Museum at Baker University from 1967 to 1970. He was also pastor emeritus at the Lenexa United Methodist Church, a member of the Baldwin Masonic Lodge and a former president of the Baldwin Rotary Club.

He rested in the Lord on July 15, 1979 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Baldwin. The Cooles had three sons - Paul, Thomas and Andrew - and six grandchildren.


© SCAC. This article from Missionaries to Sarawak: Footprints in the Land of Hornbills is reproduced with permission of the Sarawak Chinese Annual Conference, The Methodist Church in Malaysia, with editing for clarity and brevity. 

[Missionaries to Sarawak: Footprints in the Land of Hornbills 1 and 2 are compiled by Wong Meng Lei (also chief editor), edited by Tumi Ngae, and translated by Christina Tiong, K.T. Chew, and Chang Yi. Book 2 translators are Christina Tiong, K.T. Chew, Chang Yi and Ting Kong Sing.]