Few athletic administrators in the state of Connecticut -- and, indeed, anywhere else on the planet -- can rival C. Donald Cook for length of service or passion for and dedication to each of his three employers, Sacred Heart University, the University of Hartford and his alma mater, Fairfield University. His myriad of accomplishments encompasses 48 years and is nothing less than mind-boggling.
Indeed, including his three varsity seasons as a star baseball player at Fairfield, the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native spent 51 years in athletics in the Nutmeg State.
Some of his major honors in recent years include:
- Induction into the Fairfield County Sports Commission Athletic Hall of Fame, October 2013
- The Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Commissioner’s Award, September 2013
- Induction into the Northeast Conference Hall of Fame, February 2013
- The All-America Football Foundation's General Robert Neyland Athletic Director's Award in 2001
- The prestigious Gold Key Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance in 1999
- The ECAC Athletics Administrator of the Year Award in 1998.
- Inducted into the University of Hartford Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame, May 2014
Cook retired from Sacred Heart University in June 2013 after 21 years as director of athletics and then executive director of athletics. Under his leadership, the university expanded its intercollegiate athletic program from 12 to 31 varsity sports and constructed several new facilities, including the $17.5 million William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center.
He led the Pioneers' move to Division I status, which began in 1999 as a full member of the Northeast Conference (NEC), the ECAC and an associate member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in men's wrestling, as well as a charter member of the Atlantic Ice Hockey Association (AHA).
Included in the program development and move to Division I, Cook guided the university through its first NCAA Division I certification in 2007, a process that reaffirmed and validated Sacred Heart's commitment to the highest NCAA Division I standards. He was a recent recipient of the Sacred Heart Administrator of the Year Award.
Cook chaired the Northeast Conference Athletic Director's Committee for 2010-11 and 2011-12 and served on the NEC Strategic Planning Committee. He was a co-founder and the first president of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), a former president of the ECAC, a member of the NCAA Council, and served on the NCAA Division I-A and I-AA Football Issues Committee.
He was chair of the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) Executive Committee in its early formative years, and continued as a member of the Association's Executive Committee while serving on the league's strategic planning committee. In retirement, he’s been retained as consultant to update the AHA strategic plan. He formally served on the NACDA Football Executive Committee. He chaired the Northeast Conference Baseball Committee and served on NEC Membership Committee, and chaired the organization's Cost Containment Committee.
Currently, he’s a member of the Sacred Heart University Sports Communications and Media Advisory Committee, and is working part time in University Advancement following retirement from full time athletics administration.
He also made significant contributions at Fairfield University. As a baseball catcher and solid hitter, Cook starred for the three Stag teams and in 1963, served as co-captain and received the senior class athletic award.
Appointed head coach in 1966, he directed the Fairfield team for 19 seasons, transforming the program into a respected Division I entity that challenged the traditional powers -- Maine, UConn, Holy Cross -- for regional supremacy. Fifteen of his players, including former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Keefe Cato, advanced to pro ball.
In his years (1971-86) as Fairfield's athletic director, Cook supervised the building of the Recreation Complex, the enlargement of Alumni Hall and the renovation of Alumni Field. During that eventful period, the Stags' men's basketball team earned its first bid to the NCAA Tournament (1986) and made three appearances in the National Invitation Tournament (1973, '74, '78).
As athletic director at the University of Hartford from 1986-92, Cook oversaw the building of an $11 million athletics complex as well as the program's emergence as a Division I institution. As the Hawks interim baseball coach, he contributed to the development of Jeff Bagwell, one of major league baseball's finest hitters in the 1990s.
Cook earned three degrees from Fairfield: a bachelor's degree in economics, a master's in counseling and a master's in corporate communications. He did extensive post-graduate work in business at the University of Connecticut as well.
In 1984, Cook was inducted into the Fairfield University Alumni Association's Athletic Hall of Fame, the highest athletic honor at Fairfield, for his achievements as an athlete, coach and administrator.
Cook’s late wife, Patty Hemenway, was a former high-level singer-actress who starred in the title role of “Evita” on Broadway and in the National Touring Company in the early 1980s. She was a 1972 graduate of Sacred Heart.
He is the father of two children, Christopher; vice president of marketing at Hitachi Credit America Corp. Chris passed away in April 2014 following a long, courageous battle with cancer. He’s survived by his wife Camilla of Westport; and Dr. Courtney Cook-Stephenson of Charlotte, N.C., a board-certified obstetrician and surgeon in maternal fetal medicine. He has three grandchildren, George (14) and Julianna (11) Stephenson, and Kirsten Cook (3). Don has had a new, happy lease on life since his late wife, Patty’s passing. He’s engaged to Deborah McAuley of Bedminster, New Jersey.