Obituary: Dr Ivar Cooke

Scientist who undertook ground-breaking work during the McCarthy era


the organic chemist Dr Ivar Cooke, who has died aged 86, fled Nazi occupied Prague in 1939 at the age of seven, with his mother and sister Renatka. The day they left the Germans decided to stop all emigration and closed all frontier points. His parents and sister were grateful to find refuge in England, but other relatives were not so fortunate, dying in various concentration camps across Europe.

Ivar Cooke was the son of Alfred Cucka and Annie Cuckova (née Brenner) in the farming town of Spiske Podhradie, Slovakia. His father was the village veterinarian surgeon and ombudsman. A keen scientist and experimental mischief-maker with chemistry sets, Ivar spent time creating boyish havoc and terrorising local families in his family home in Edgware, Middlesex.

His education spanned Hinton Hall, Shropshire (1943-44) a school for Czech refugee children evacuated during the war, Mercers’s School, Chancery Lane, and Mill Hill School for Boys (1946-49) in London. He was accepted into the University of Geneva aged only 17, and achieved a PhD in Organic Chemistry within three years.

Among various positions, Ivar served as the European Manager of the Chemical Division of Quaker Oats from 1963-66, and General Marketing Director of Abbot UK, in 1967. He later became the company’s Managing Director, until 1972.

In 1977 Ivar became, with the help of Irvin Lesk of Merck Sharp and Dohme, a co-founder of IC Chemikalien, a worldwide distributor of stable isotopes for medical, agricultural, government, university and research applications. Prior to that, Ivar’s work took him around the globe to Mexico, Africa, India, the Caribbean, Europe and Kenya. He lived in Munich from 1977 until the Noughties, subsequently retiring with his wife Gerlinde, to Luzern, Switzerland.

A highlight of his career included working under two eminent and ground-breaking Afro-American scientists at Fisk University, Nashville Tennessee in 1955 (during the McCarthy era) –– Dr Samuel Massie (a member of the Manhattan Project) and Dr Percy Julian –– a pioneer of medicinal drugs from plants, in particular steroids and progesterone from soya and cortisone.

In his private life Ivar enjoyed classical music, painting, travelling, and the wonders of the natural world. He kept up his life-long interest in world politics and economics. He spoke seven languages fluently and self-professed that he was a “polyclot – I could display my ignorance in several languages.” Although he suffered from bipolar disorder he maintained his penchant for telling – and being told – jokes, good or bad.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Gerlinde, daughters Andrée and Alex, their mother Yvonne, his sister Renata Whurr, step-son Marc Schreinemacher,grandchildren Phoenix Pavlik and Sasha Hayling and extended family.

Alex Cooke


Dr Ivar Cooke: born June 26, 1932. 
Died October 10, 2018

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