Walter Leighton Cook passed away in his beloved Atascadero on Aug. 1, just shy of his 94th birthday. He was born Aug. 17, 1923 to Lucien and Eulah Parks Cook, on his mother’s family farm in Tiptonville, Tenn. Shortly after birth, they went back to the Cook ranch in Magdalena, N.M. that Leighton’s grandfather had homesteaded. His grandparents also owned some property in Atascadero because his grandmother had read about E.G. Lewis’s vision of Atascadero, and in 1916 had bought some property on El Camino Real. She thought it would be a good spot for an auto campground naming it Camp Buena Vista. The name was later changed to Glen Oaks after the suggestion of author, Jack London. The first picture of Leighton in Atascadero is in 1924 sitting on the fender of a model T in front of this campground.
Leighton’s childhood was spent moving between Atascadero, New Mexico, and Tennessee and these experiences shaped the man he was to become. He learned to hunt and trap which led to his lifelong love and respect of nature, the outdoors, and animals. He worked long hours in the fields, tended animals, and learned the value of hard work.
When it was time to enter high school, he told his parents he wanted to stay in Atascadero. Coach Bud Ewing said Leighton was too small for football, so Leighton checked out a basketball on the first day of school, started practicing, and became a very good guard wearing his lucky number “4” on his uniform. Coach Ewing said he wished all his players had Leighton’s heart and drive. Leighton also played baseball for the Hounds, and later for the Atascadero A’s. This year marks the 75th anniversary of his graduation from AHS.
Leighton married Lorraine Carron in 1948. The two of them were a good team. “Work together, play together” was their motto and when not working enjoyed going to shows in Las Vegas and horse races. When their daughter, Marcia, was born, she became part of the team. Leighton and Lorraine would go on to buy the Glen Oaks Grocery from his grandmother, build a new store, and operate the business until 1977. He felt his customers were family. After closing the store, he started a large vegetable garden and fruit orchard, and was proud to win numerous blue ribbons including several sweepstakes at the Mid-State County Fair.
After Lorraine passed away in 1988, he lived with his daughter and her family for a couple years who took him on numerous trips to all the places he wanted to visit throughout the United States and Canada—from the Calgary Stampede to the Kentucky Derby, tracing his roots, visiting old friends and relatives, and attending music camps with the Grandkids.
But he missed the Central Coast, so he moved back to Atascadero. That is when Opal Bridgman became his companion and the Bridgman family adopted him as their Papa, too. The years were filled with family gatherings and barbeques. Opal and Leighton did much traveling, western dancing, attending Professional Bull Rider events, working for local causes, and were Grand Marshalls for the Creston Classic Rodeo.
Over the years, he rarely missed attending the Greyhound games and enjoyed talking sports with his friends. Before the Internet, every week, his son-in-law would mail him the Southern California newspapers and Leighton could hardly wait to bring them to Coach Welsh and Coach DeRose to share info on upcoming opponents. In year 2000, Leighton was honored to be Grand Marshall for the Colony Days Parade and was able to ride “shotgun” on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach. He was passionate about local history and was a member of the Atascadero Historical Society. All his friends are familiar with his stories such as Easter egg hunts at Mrs. Ewalt’s house or playing baseball with Jackie Robinson. He continued to hunt, fish, garden, attend AHS games, and do all the things he loved up until his last days. He always had something to look forward to and was always setting goals. He will be remembered for his welcoming smile as a loving man ready to lend a helping hand to all in need.
Leighton is survived by his daughter, Marcia, her husband, three grandchildren and their spouses, two great grandchildren, the Bridgman family, all his other family and friends who he loved and loved him, and his loyal dog, Maya.
Though he may be gone from this life, his memory lives on through all those who heard his stories. Please join us for a celebration of Leighton’s life at the Kiwanis Club at the Atascadero Lake, 7848 Pismo Road, on Sunday, October 22 at 1:30 p.m. Fittingly, it is Colony Days Weekend. In lieu of flowers, a donation in Leighton’s memory to the AHS Athletic Booster Club would be appreciated.