Tribute to former Lewes teacher Pat Cooper

Pat Cooper
Pat Cooper

After former teacher, restaurant owner, gallery curator and festival organiser Pat Cooper died aged 77, her friend Carole Buchan paid tribute to the woman who ‘helped put Lewes on the map’.

One of life’s movers and shakers - that’s how Pat Cooper will be remembered.

Pat, who has died aged 77, was for over 30 years in the forefront of what became a cultural revolution in Lewes.

She moved to the town in the Seventies with her husband Mike and son Richard and joined the staff of the Old Grammar School, where she taught A-level English.

An inspirational teacher, she fired her students with a love of the theatre, organising trips to London and directing many ground-breaking productions for the school.

She left teaching to open Lunch Counter on Station Street, one of the first restaurants of its kind in Lewes.

It was soon to become one of the most popular, the warmth of its ambience inspired by her life-long love of Italy.

Everything about Lunch Counter was unique, from the authentic Italian coffee machine to the tables and chairs made locally by Mike Marshall and tableware by Newhaven potter Chris Lewis.

Home cooking and an emphasis on vegetarian food attracted the attention of Egon Ronay who in 1980 included it as one of his starred eating houses in his Guide for Gourmets on a Family Budget.

Ten years later when Station Street was developed for housing, Pat went to work at Glyndebourne before she and her husband, the painter Mike Cooper, became involved with a group of fellow enthusiasts in restoring the Old Brewery in Castle Ditch Lane into what became the Star Gallery and studios.

When the Star opened in 1989, she became the gallery’s first curator.

The huge success of the Star paved the way for the emergence of Lewes as a centre for the arts.

Pat developed links with some of the top London galleries and hosted exhibitions by some of the leading names in the international art world. Alongside this she provided a springboard for emerging new talent, some of whom went on to become household names.

In the early Nineties Pat and Mike worked with Lewes District Council’s arts’ officer to set up the first Artwave Festival.

From a handful of open houses the festival continues to this day with over 100 venues opening every summer across the district.

Pat and Mike retired in 2004.

In addition to her husband, Pat leaves a son Richard and three grandsons.

Her funeral was held yesterday (May 14) at St Thomas a Becket Church.

Carole Buchan is a former arts development officer, Lewes District Council and a long-standing friend of Pat and Mike.

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