Remembering Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook who died on the 6th October 2021

Eileen was born in 1950 on the 1st May – a significant day of political action throughout her life. She marched through many May day rallies, ensuring that a CND banner was carried with her for all to see. Thanks to her parents, her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was literally life-long. She grew up in a house of peace movement activism and normal family practices included leafletting and the like. But her own activism was thoughtful not automatic, she chose to embrace many campaigns and occasionally to step back. From her first days in employment, she was an active trade unionist, working to build the union. The staff out on strike now, at her last place of work, Scotland’s Rural College (previously the Scottish Agricultural College), will testify to that. Her early and long standing activism also involved the National Abortion Campaign, which in time became the organisation Abortion Rights and her feminist informed commitment to women’s right was also reflected in her involvement in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

On 6th June 1976, Eileen met a kindred spirit in Pete Cannell at an anti-racist demonstration in Southall Park, London, and from more or less then onwards, they shared their journey. Their move to Scotland was in the early 1980s, following Eileen securing a job teaching economics at what was then Dundee Institute of Technology, later Abertay University. It took Pete another few months to switch from teaching Maths down south to a new post at Kirkcaldy Technical College. They made a home in Tayport for the next 15years and their daughter, Sinead was born in 1986. Once working in Dundee, as well as being active in her union, Eileen quickly became a key figure in Dundee CND where she served as secretary for many of those years. During the 1990 war against Iraq, Eileen was instrumental in what proved to be a very large demonstration in the city centre of Dundee, despite a few police home-visits offering suggestions about why an anti-war demonstration was a bad idea.

The family’s move to Edinburgh in 1998 was in pursuit of other employment. Eileen had started to feel ill at ease in Abertay; politically-aware economics did not fit so well with a view of her discipline as a tool of business and commerce. Her own interests shifted over time, from development economics, through political economy to environmental economics. It took a long time to find a job in Edinburgh but she was perhaps better able to nurture her environmentalism after she took up a post at the Scottish Agricultural College in 2005. By now Sinead was a mature teenager of whom Eileen was very proud and who had willingly assisted in many of her parents’ political campaigns.

By the early 2000s in Edinburgh, there were other new campaigns alongside commitment to Edinburgh CND, in which Eileen again took up the role of secretary and bolstered the sustainability of the group. She was also a founder member of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign, a key early member of the Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition and of the newly re-formed Scottish branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In the latter, she helped mobilise the night-time vigil during the bombing of Fallujah. New inspiration was drawn from attendance at three of the Cairo Anti-War conferences. Eileen was energised by the special significance of these events as a safe space where members of the nascent democracy movement in Egypt could speak and their internationalism. Pete tells of her sitting for an hour in intense dialogue with a man from Sudan who wanted to know and understand everything about how CND was organised in Edinburgh. In 2005, as part of the G8 Alternatives Collective, Eileen did much of the room booking and organised accommodation for speakers from around the world, getting many of them put up by neighbours in Portobello, including South African poet Dennis Brutus who had been imprisoned with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island.

The comments and tributes that have poured in since Eileen’s death speak volumes about the encouragement she gave to others through her enthusiasm, interest and egalitarianism. Her teaching style was dialogic not didactic. Although never afraid to speak up and tackle people if she suspected wrong doing, she was also incredibly modest. I never once heard her talk about or insist that others give her recognition because of what she had done and yet she had made many a campaign happen. She lived ‘think globally act locally’ through her everyday cycling, her small acts of care for her neighbourhood and local environment. She knew and looked out for her neighbours and her communities of activists, as well as loving her friends and family. The relentless progress of her illness was not without suffering but she never stopped being herself.