Family, friends mourning loss of ECU professor who had ALS

Nelson Cooper (Facebook photo)

GREENVILLE, Pitt County - Family, friends and others who knew him are mourning the death of an East Carolina University professor who was battling ALS.

Nelson Lee Cooper passed away Thursday at the age of 50. His death notice was published on the Wilkerson Funeral Home website.

Cooper's funeral will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville. A private interment will be held in Statesville at a later date. The family will receive visitors Saturday from 5-8 p.m. at Wilkerson Funeral Home.

According to his obituary, Nelson became a full-time instructor in the Recreation and Park Management degree program at ECU. In 2003, he completed his PhD at Clemson University and returned as an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at ECU. He served as a recreation and park educator for more than 20 years.

"Papa Smurf," as many people called him, helped start Greenville's F3 men's workout groups, according to The Daily Reflector. The newspaper said Cooper began experiencing symptoms that held him back from his exercise routine. On June 27, 2016, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.

People rallied around Cooper, his wife and family. Prayer services were held and money was raised to help with hospital and doctor bills. Friends started selling "Coop Strong" bumper stickers and wristbands and benefits and other functions were held to support the family and promote the fight against ALS, which also took the life of former East Carolina University baseball coach Keith LeClair.

Many ECU supporters tweeted their respects for Cooper and his family after learning the news of his death.

Rest In Peace Dr. Nelson Cooper #CoopStrong

-- Evan Kruczynski (@evankruz) May 19, 2017

What a huge impact you've had on my and many others' lives. #Respect always. #HIM #COOPSTRONG #RIP @F3ENC

-- Alex Wadford (@F3Dewey) May 18, 2017

Humbled to meet him. Inspired to know of him. Honored to carry on for him. Aye, Papa #CoopStrong

-- Michael Turner (@turnersfungo) May 19, 2017

@F3ENC My friend taught me how to live Like the faint #CoopStrong sticker @ The Stronghold, lessons can be subtle

-- Seth Brown (@F3Bono) May 18, 2017

Coop Strong on every Pirate hat his weekend.

-- Corey Gloor (@CoreyGloor) May 19, 2017

Nelson was awarded the State of North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine, East Carolina University Vice Chancellor's Advocacy Award, North Carolina Recreation and Park Association Fellow Award, and the East Carolina Creed Award for Integrity. He received numerous other awards for leadership and service.

Nelson is survived by his wife of 25 years, Mary Ann Beard Cooper, along with a son, daughter and many other relatives. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to:

Oakmont Baptist Church 1100 Red Banks Road Greenville, NC 27858 or

ALS Association North Carolina Chapter 4 N Blount St #200 Raleigh, NC 27601 or

ECU Foundation, Inc. The Nelson L. Cooper Scholarship Fund Office of Gift Records East Carolina University 2200 South Charles Boulevard Greenville, NC 27858