Professor Wilhelmina Matilda Reuben-Cooke was born in Georgetown, South Carolina on December 13, 1946. She was the eldest of six children of the late Reverend Dr. Odell R. Reuben and the late Dr. Anna Mays Daniels Reuben. She was named in honor of her parents’ mothers. On June 22, 1968, Wilhelmina Matilda Reuben married her best friend and soulmate Air Force 1st Lieutenant Edmund Douglas Cooke, Jr. of Springfield, Ohio, and together they reared two daughters.
Descended from a long line of missionaries and educators, Reuben-Cooke lived a life devoted to family, spiritual growth, community service, mentorship, and the promotion of educational opportunities. She and her husband were founders of and remained active leaders in the Covenant Christian Community. Her husband and daughters were exceptionally proud of her theological studies at Wesley Seminary. Wilhelmina’s extended family looked to her wise, gentle leadership and her model of grace, generosity and achievement in the pursuit of Christian service.
Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke attended public schools in Sumter, SC and graduated from Mather School (HS 1963), a Christian boarding school in Beaufort, SC. She served the Mather School National Alumni Association in varied leadership positions, including President of the MSNAA’s Washington DC Chapter.
She was a Full Professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law, after serving as UDC’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Previously, she was Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Syracuse University’s College of Law. Earlier, as Associate Director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation, Reuben-Cooke engaged in and supervised litigation before the Federal Communications Commission and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court.
One of the first five African-American undergraduate students at Duke University, Wilhelmina open doors and broke down barriers for generations of students of color who have followed. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and awarded a Woodrow Wilson Scholar. Her election as Duke’s first African-American May Queen was noted in the New York Times. Her sense of responsibility to justice and equity called her to action in the civil rights movement, including protesting in Durham and Chapel Hill, and signing an open letter against the memberships of key Duke administrators and faculty members at the then all-white Hope Valley Country Club. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School (1973) with her husband Edmund, she relocated to Washington, DC, where she began her legal career as an with Associate Attorney at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering working in communications, antitrust, tax, securities, criminal and general corporate law.
In 2011, Reuben-Cooke was awarded the Duke University Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor granted by the Duke Alumni Association for her exemplary service, including two terms on the Duke University Board of Trustees. In 2013, a $1 million scholarship fund was established to honor Wilhelmina and the four other first black undergraduates at Duke. Reuben-Cooke attained numerous other honors, including the Sojourner Truth Award from the Syracuse University chapter of The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the C. Eric Lincoln Distinguished Alumni Award from Duke’s Black Alumni Council, and the Black Citizens for a Fair Media Annual Award for Public Interest Advocacy. Reuben-Cooke served on numerous community, civic and professional boards, including The Duke Endowment. She was a member of the Links, Inc. and an Alpha Kappa Alpha Legacy.
Wilhelmina Matilda Reuben-Cooke made her transition to Glory on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 at INOVA Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. She is survived by Edmund D. Cooke, Jr., her devoted husband of more than 51 years; her adoring daughters, Ms. Wilhelmina Nilaja Cooke (IV) and Ms. Shani Malika Cooke; her loving siblings, Dr. Lucy J. Reuben (Dr. John A. Cole), Ms. Anna Marie Reuben, Mr. Odell R. Reuben, Jr. (Mrs. Earnestine Reuben), Dr. Jayne S. Reuben Ms. Janice S. Reuben, and Mrs. Barbara Anne Sims (Mr. Thomas Sims Jr.), as well as nine nephews (Kwame Odell Oliver, John Akayomi Cole, Odell R. Reuben III, Xavier Reuben, James Reuben, Calvin Painter, Thomas Sidney Sims, Nicholas Edmund Sims, and Jair YA Cole) and one niece,(LaRisha D. Porter); numerous grand nieces, nephews and cousins. Wilhelmina embraced Attorney Angela Dougan Sherrer as her daughter-of-the-heart, and Phillip J. Sherrer and Marcus P. Sherrer as grandsons. She was predeceased by her parents Reverend Dr. Odell R. Reuben and Dr. Anna Mays Daniels Reuben; her parents-in-law Mr. Edmund D. Cooke, Sr. and Mrs. Cassie Mae Corley-Cooke and her sister-in-law Ms. Judith Karen Cooke.