Bluebird Foods, Cook Foods Owner Bud Cook Dies at 87

Herbert “Bud” Cook | Photo provided

When Herbert “Bud” Cook’s father died in 1950, his small retail meat market at Second and Poplar streets was left in disarray, and Cook found himself dropping out of high school to work there alongside his mother, Rose.

“Imagine an 18-year-old boy going to work with his mom and learning those kinds of life skills, and dealing with issues and people, and building the business,” Cook’s son, Harry Cook, said. “There couldn’t have been any stronger influence on him than having to live that day to day and watch [Rose’s] perseverance and her skills and try to learn them for himself.”

Cook developed that market into Bluebird Foods, a New York Stock Exchange-listed Fortune 500 company and one of the largest meat processing plants in Philadelphia. On April 2, Cook died at the age of 87 in Jupiter, Fla.

“He was a man’s man, from a generation that’s evaporating,” said Robert Cook, another of Cook’s sons. “They acted more than they talked. He was devoted to his friends and family.”

Rose Cook had an enormous influence on his life, Harry Cook said. She was the one who nicknamed him “Buddy,” which became “Bud,” and followed him for the rest of his life. Harry Cook joked that anyone on the phone asking for Herbert was probably a telemarketer.

“She taught my father, from the time he was a child, that charity and compassion and caring about others was very important,” Harry Cook said. “That part is easy to see where he got that from.”

Throughout the 1950s, the two built the company into one of the country’s leading pork processors. In 1960, Cook became the first independent meat packer to build a modern plant in Philadelphia’s new Food Distribution Center. He also taught himself finance, law, engineering and manufacturing so he could be successful in his business.

In 1979, Cook sold Bluebird. A few years later, he started a new family business, Cook Foods Inc., a ham producer and marketer.

“I got to see, firsthand, how determined he was to be successful and do things properly,” said Harry Cook, who worked alongside his father at Cook Foods. “We spent untold hours making sure the process was as good as we could get it.”

Bud Cook was raised quite religious, Robert Cook said, but became less so as he got older. Judaism was always important to him, though. He was involved with Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel and Har Zion Temple and supported Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Golden Slipper Gems. He served on multiple Philadelphia-area boards as well, such as the Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital.

Later in life, Harry Cook said his father made the transition from businessman to grandfather, or “Pop-pop,” as the family called him. Robert Cook said that he learned to use modern technology, like FaceTime and Skype, so that he could stay in touch with his grandchildren.

“He didn’t use the word ‘no,’” Robert Cook said. “He didn’t use the word ‘can’t.’”

Cook is survived by his wife of 64 years, Charlotte Elaine Cook; children Harry, Susan, Robert and Eve; 16 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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