Anyone who has frequented the Giant supermarket on Maple Avenue has seen Artie Cook rustling shopping carts and loading groceries around the parking lot. Cook was a narrowly built black man with cornrows, a friendly demeanor and a moderate intellectual disability. He had recently turned 49 but appeared considerably younger and was described by customers as gentle and quick to lend a hand.
"He was very nice," said Mahin Farley. "He always helped me, and he was always thankful. And he was so careful with my mom, to make sure she got in the car and was buckled in."
Margie Carson said Cook had taken a liking to her mother as well. "Artie would always ask me how she was when she wasn't with me," said Carson, who noted that he had been working parcel pickup at the store for a very long time. "It was kind of inspiring to see him there working all of those years," she said.
"He was always jumping in to help load groceries or move carts," said Mary Miossi, another customer. "He just seemed like a sweet guy, you know?"
Leo Sullivan, a Fairfax County firefighter with the Tysons Corner station, is working to collect money from surrounding fire stations to help the family pay for funeral expenses. "He was always friendly," said Sullivan, who has known Cook since his days at the now-defunct Tysons Corner Giant. "We could always joke with him and carry on with him, and he wouldn't take it in a bad way," he said, adding that any friendly gibe was met with a comeback.
LAST TUESDAY EVENING, June 13, Cook was riding his bike on Glyndon Street behind the Giant, near the apartments where he lived with his mother, Marie Hammond. As he was riding northbound, he was struck by a vehicle traveling in the same direction and knocked unconscious. Although he appeared uninjured, said Hammond, the trauma to his head caused his brain to swell, and he died Thursday morning without having regained consciousness.
His sister, Candace Hopkins, said Cook normally wore a bike helmet, "but for some reason, he wasn't wearing it that day."
"It seems like everyone in Vienna knew Artie, and there's been an outpouring of sympathy for his loss from all the customers coming in," said Giant store manager John Fisher.
He said one customer recently told him of how she had frustrated Cook by always parking far away and carrying her groceries herself, for the exercise. Finally, at Cook's insistence, she had pulled her car up to the store so that he could help her load her single bag of groceries.
Giant refers to its parcel pickup employees as the "ambassadors of the company," said Fisher, "and he just exemplified that."
Cook was named Employee of the Month "on numerous occasions" and also received customer service and perfect attendance awards, said Fisher. "I've been here a year and a half, and he never missed a day in that time," he said.
Cook's family said they thought that at the time of the accident he was on his way to or from the Patrick Henry Library, where he was also well-known.
"He was here every other day," said Branch Manager Andrew Pendergrass, who described Cook as polite, gentle and appreciative. "He was a great pleasure to work with," he said. Pendergrass noted that he had often helped Cook seek out educational material and that he had seen him in the library working with a tutor. "I sensed that he was working on things," he said.
Judith Federico, a full-time information assistant at Patrick Henry, said Cook began frequenting the library six or seven years ago. "When we started getting computers, he was, like most of us, computer illiterate," she said. "We helped him as much as we could, and he came along swimmingly. He certainly came along better than a lot of people we see."
"People were upset to hear that he'd died," said Anne Bradley, the library's information manager. "It was a shock." She noted that Cook was most famous at the library for his continuing research on motorcycles.
"He had a love for motorcycles, bikes, racing cars and scooters," said his mother. "He could just picture them in his mind and draw them." Drawing, she said, had always been a hobby of her son's. With the money he received for his recent birthday, "the first thing he went out and bought was drawing pads," said Hammond.
He also loved traveling, she said. Last summer, they took a 10-day cruise to Mexico, which she said he had enjoyed immensely. "He knew that whole boat. He could have been a detective there."
"When he goes on vacation, [coworkers] hear about it pretty much the whole year until he goes on the next one, because he had so much fun," said his sister, Candace Hopkins. Another thing she said he enjoyed was his job.
"He loved his job. Absolutely loved it," she said. "He never complained a day about going to work." The work made Cook feel "important and special," said Hopkins. "They really treated him well there, and he felt they were like family to him."
"He loved it because he was himself here," said Hammond, standing next to the carts her son had rounded up a thousand times. "He was able to talk to people and to help people, to go that extra mile for people," she said. "When he was able to do something for somebody, that was his pride and joy of the day."
THE ELDEST of five children, Cook made a habit out of looking out for people younger than him, whether they were family or not, said Hammond. "It was kind of a godfather thing."
"He was always kind. Everything to him was kind of a serious matter," she said.
The outpouring of sympathy and support from the community has been appreciated and overwhelming, she said. "I didn't know he was so well-loved. It took us by storm."
An account has been created at PNC Bank to help Cook's family with his final expenses. The account number is 5303105101, and checks can be made payable to The Artie Cook Fund. Donations can also be made at the Giant customer service desk.
A viewing will be held at the First Baptist Church of Vienna, 450 Orchard St., N.W., this Saturday, June 24 from 2 to 3 p.m. The funeral service will immediately follow, from 3 to 4:30 p.m.