Former U.S. Rep. John Cooksey of Louisiana dies at 80

June 8, 2022 GMT

MONROE, La. (AP) — Former U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, who served three terms representing Louisiana in the House and treated thousands as an eye surgeon, has died at the age of 80.

Cooksey, a Republican who served the 5th District from 1997 to 2003, died Saturday. A cause of death has not been released.

“Louisiana has lost a selfless and dedicated public servant,” U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, a Republican from Start, said in a statement. “During his three terms representing the 5th District in Congress, John Cooksey was a tireless advocate for our region, communities, and people.”

Letlow’s late husband, Luke, worked for Cooksey as his driver while he attended Louisiana Tech University.

“I’ll always be grateful to John Cooksey for giving my late husband Luke his start in politics, instilling a love for the work of Congress in an eager young country boy from Start. For me, he was more than a predecessor; he was a trusted mentor, confidant and friend,” the congresswoman said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he will order flags to fly at half-staff the day of Cooksey’s funeral, plans for which were pending, The News-Star reported.

He said Cooksey “leaves behind a long legacy of service to our state and nation that will not soon be forgotten.”

“He has helped and inspired countless young people and worked hard to improve life for others. He served his country and his community in every way he could, from the Air Force to Congress to his medical practice as an ophthalmologist,” Edwards said.

Cooksey, whose medical practice was based in Monroe, was born in Alexandria and graduated from LaSalle High School in Olla, where his father operated a sawmill, according to his biography. He earned his ophthalmology degree from the Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans and earned his MBA from the University of Texas.

Cooksey served in the U.S. Air Force, where he was stationed in Texas and Thailand. He also volunteered in the mission field in East Africa, where he provided health care for six years and helped found an eye clinic in Kenya.

His race for Congress in 1996 was his first run for public office. He beat Democratic state Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi in a runoff for the seat.

“Doc was always looking for ways to help folks with their challenges whether he knew them or not,” Camp Kaufman, who helped run Cooksey’s first two congressional campaigns and served as his communications director, told the newspaper. “He wasn’t that way just when he was a member of Congress, he was also that way as a member of the community. There’s a hole in a lot of people’s hearts.”