Crawford Cook, described as a “political genius” who co-founded a Columbia advertising agency that advised state, national and international clients, died Sunday.
Cook, who turned 82 on Oct. 9, had undergone heart bypass surgery several weeks ago, according to a friend.
A former news reporter, Cook was campaign manager for Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings’ first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1966. After serving two years as the new senator’s administrative assistant, Cook resigned to form an advertising agency with fellow Hollings staffer Lee Ruef.
They built Cook Ruef & Associates into one of the nation’s first successful political consulting firms. Cook managed John West’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 1970 and advised S.C. Democratic governors from the 1960s through Gov. Jim Hodges’ term, which ended in 2003, according to Hodges.
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Cook also advised Democratic candidates across the nation, including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Cook was a senior advisor to Richardson during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Among Cook’s international clients was Saudi Arabia, which hired him in 1978 to represent the kingdom’s interest in the United States. That year, he helped lobby Congress to approve the sale of 60 F-15 fighter jets to the Saudis.
“He was quite a political genius,” said Don Fowler of Columbia, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The two met when they played college basketball against each other in the 1950s.
Hodges described Cook as a “terrific, sensible, smart person who cared about South Carolinians.”
Among the advice Cook gave Hodges was to “trust your convictions. He was always big about trusting your convictions and doing what was best regardless of the political consequences. He was very grounded in the advice he provided. He was the adult in the room who could provide sage counsel and ... say things to elected officials that others couldn’t.”
Cook Ruef and Associates enjoyed impressive growth through the years, growing from $300,000 in billings in 1969 to about $10 million 15 years later, according to a story in The State newspaper in 1984. Its clients included South Carolina Electric & Gas Co., J.C. Penney, Georgia Railroad Bank and Monsanto Corp.
It also represented the State Development Board — which became the state Department of Commerce — and the state Department of Youth Services, which became the Department of Juvenile Justice.
The firm’s work won national acclaim, including for one ad about runaway children. The message, developed for the Department of Youth Services, said: “Ignore Them, Maybe They’ll Go Away.”
In 1970, besides guiding West’s gubernatorial campaign, Cook, Ruef also handled the local Democratic ticket that resulted in the election of the first African-Americans to the State House since Reconstruction, according to the 1984 news story in The State.
Fowler praised Cook as a smart man who understood politics in South Carolina. “He had to manage through a lot of nuances,” Fowler said. “He did it with great integrity and great skills.”
After the firm closed down after decades of successful operation, Fowler said, Cook worked as a policy adviser for companies across the United States.
As of about a week ago – the last time Fowler and Cook spoke – Fowler said his friend sounded well. The two discussed health, mostly, and a little bit of politics.
John Durst, a close friend who also worked with Cook at the advertising agency, said Cook continued advising Democratic candidates into the current election cycle. “He was a terrific mentor to a lot of people, including me,” Durst said.
Ginger Crocker, a friend and former state representative from Laurens County, predicted Cook’s influence isn’t over. “Democrats are going to win big” in November, she said, “because Crawford is going to take care of them.”
Cook is survived by his widow, Sheila; three daughters, Cheryl, Angela and Laura; and a son, Sean. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Associate Editor Paul Osmundson contributed.