Other than mom and dad, and perhaps Bassmaster conservation director Gene Gilliland – nobody had a greater responsibility for guiding me to this career I love – as much as my childhood hero, and 1991 Bassmaster Classic Champion Ken Cook.
Hours after coyote hunting, stacking firewood and spending time at his son Hunter’s house – Ken passed unexpectedley from this earth 22 months ago.
A huge picture of him still hangs in my home. And a lotta days, I stare at it and tell him I miss him.
Recently, during an honored visit to the mega-cool studios where Bassmaster TV is produced in Little Rock – amid hallways lined with bass fishing history – VanDam’s framed jersey, old "jelly worm" letterhead from Tom Mann and the earliest cameras used to shoot The Fishin’ Hole – was a stop-me-in-my-tracks issue of Bassmaster Magazine from 26 years ago this month.
The November 1991 issue of Bassmaster featuring Ken Cook on the front cover swinging an Upper Chesapeake largemouth over the gunnel to seize the sport’s most celebrated title.
No other issues were around it there on that desk next to some editing equipment.
Just that one issue, of the roughly 500 issues of Bassmaster Magazine that have been printed since the late 1960s.
I was 21 when the November 1991 issue published and had just started studying for my masters in fisheries biology at the University of Oklahoma – about 80 miles from Ken’s home in Meers.
Ken invited me to come visit. Sorta like Brett Favre inviting a football obsessed college kid to come hang out for the day.
I was nervous. Ken’s direct style always carried a blend of compliments dripped in challenges and profound wisdom.
But like me, cookies and baitcasting reels were his weakness.
Ken was a Cookie Monster as well as Classic Champion.
So between homemade cookies and him letting me cast his Classic winning spinnerbait combo in the yard next to the garage that stored his Javelin – I felt more at ease.
Finally, the daylong visit was approaching its end. Night was falling in the Wichita Mountains, and I was facing a 1 1/2 hour drive back to Norman alone in the dark.
One last thing before I drove out of Meers – and it took courage to ask. Again I was still a bit nervous.
Hell, who am I kidding? Ken had a way of making me just a little nervous throughout our 28 years of friendship that started by me writing letters to B.A.S.S. – asking PR superstar Ann Lewis, if she could somehow get my letter to my hero, Ken Cook.
“Ken, before I go, could you please sign the front cover?”
With black Sharpie, he did. The same front cover you see here, that stopped me in my tracks yesterday as I toured the Bassmaster studios.
“To Alan: Hang in there. You too can be here. Ken Cook. ” – and he drew an arrow from his signature to his image – meaning he believed I might someday stand in his shoes.
Needless to say, I never did.
But like a lotta things Ken did or said to me – I found enormous inspiration from that front cover that hung framed in my Norman, Okla., apartment throughout graduate school, and later in my first bachelor pad in Tulsa. And now in my office at Dynamic Sponsorships.
As Tammy once said so well, “Ken was his own compass.”
Ken was much my compass too.
Ken and Tammy also taught me to look for signs along my journey – and there’s a lot of Ken and Tammy’s teachings woven into the fiber of my soul, my thoughts and my lifestyle.
So that one issue from 26 years ago laying there alone yesterday … not a coincidence.
Instead a sign, as I spent yet another day doing a job I love – that he helped guide me to.
“I may be gone. But I’ll never really leave you.”