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Robert E. Cooley, Leading Educator, Dies

Robert E. Cooley, an AG minister and former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary died in the early morning hours of April 1.
Robert “Bob” E. Cooley, a graduate of Central Bible College, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, and a premier educator and administrator, passed away early Thursday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, after an extended illness. He was 90 years old.

Cooley, who was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, served as the second president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts — one of the leading evangelical seminaries in the nation — from 1981 to 1997.

At his inauguration to the presidency of Gordon-Conwell, Billy Graham commented about Cooley: “We’re all convinced that he is God’s choice servant.”

Prior to serving at Gordon-Conwell, Cooley served as a professor and administrator at a number of institutions, including Central Bible College, Wheaton College, Evangel University, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Dropsie University, and Missouri State University.

Cooley wrote and lectured around the world on leadership, education, and archaeology, and led more than 80 study tours of the Holy Lands as well participated in archeological excavations in the Middle East. As a working scholar, he was active in a variety of professional societies and in numerous public, community, and state civic activities.

“Dr. Cooley was a remarkable Pentecostal statesman, leader, and personal friend,” states George O. Wood, interim president of Evangel University and former AG general superintendent. “The kingdom of God and the Assemblies of God are so much better because of his service. With his assistance and mentoring, the consolidation of the three Springfield schools took place – Evangel University, Central Bible College, and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He leaves a lasting legacy and the imprint of his life on thousands of students is eternal.”

Cooley’s roots, however, were not in administration, as he remained passionate about archaeology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in biblical studies and archaeology and a Master of Arts in religious education from Wheaton College, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Hebrew studies and Near Eastern archaeology from New York University.

While at Missouri State (1973-1981), he was professor of anthropology and religious studies for the Springfield-based university and the director of research for the university’s Center for Archaeological Research.

Even in his advanced years, Cooley spoke with passion on the importance of biblical archaeology. In November 2019, Cooley was a guest speaker at the Gordon-Conwell campus in Charlotte, North Carolina, presenting a message titled: Household Archeology: My Career Lies in Ruins.

By former students and colleagues alike, Cooley is remembered with great respect, admiration, and appreciation for his academic and administrative abilities, leadership, mentoring skills, archeological passion, friendship, and Christ-centered life.

Cooley was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Eileen (2018); and a son, Robert C., who passed away in 2003. He is survived by his son, Gerald, and two grandchildren, Emma and Ethan.

A memorial service for Cooley will be held on the Gordon-Conwell Charlotte campus. Information about the service will be posted at the conclusion of the Gordon-Conwell reflection on Cooley’s life and accomplishments, found here, when it becomes available.