Jayne Helen Cooley, 67, longtime nurse, retired U.S. Army colonel
Jayne Helen Cooley grew up on Sterling Avenue near Hertel, so she walked to school at Holy Angels Academy. When the school closed in 2013, she told a Buffalo News reporter about the family atmosphere there and the strict but kind Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.
In fact, Jayne Helen Cooley, who at that point in her life was a retired U.S. Army “full bird” colonel, briefly listed some of her life’s challenges and successes, then added, “I got a lot of things here that put me in a position to do something like that.”
Col. Cooley, a Tonawanda resident, died on Oct. 19 in Buffalo General Medical Center, where she was admitted on Oct. 17 after suffering a stroke. She was 67.
“She always had a smile on her face,” said her sister Barbara. “And if anyone had health problems, she would say, ‘I’ll stop in,’ or ‘I’ll call,’ and she took it upon herself to be of assistance whenever she could. If she could help, she was right there.”
Col. Cooley was the youngest of five children of Joseph E. Cooley Sr. and Isabel M. Cardina Cooley. Her middle name was a tribute to her aunt Helen (Cooley) Jacob, an Army sergeant who in 1945 co-founded the first American Legion post for female veterans in Buffalo.
After graduating from Holy Angels Academy, where she belonged to the Spanish Club and played on the basketball team, Col. Cooley graduated from Buffalo General Hospital School of Nursing in 1972. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University at Buffalo in 1982.
Col. Cooley was a surgical nurse for 11 years at Buffalo General Hospital, working on the neurosurgery and oral surgery units. She then worked for several years as an industrial nurse at such companies as Hewitt-Robbins Rubber and Republic Steel, then, in 1987, began work as a self-employed registered professional private duty nurse. She cared for some patients in hospitals, but mostly worked in their homes, continuing to care for some patients for years.
On July 24, 1978, she joined the Army Nurse Corps, serving for more than 32 years.
In December 1990, during Operation Desert Storm, she was deployed to the Persian Gulf as an operating room nurse with the reserve’s Niagara Falls-based 338th General Hospital.
In April 1991, Col. Cooley, who then held the rank of major, wrote a letter to The News about her work in the 400-bed 31st Combat Support Hospital in Saudi Arabia.
“We were very busy for five days following the ground war invasion,” she wrote. “We treated well over 200 casualties and performed nearly 80 operative procedures. We operated on Americans, British and Iraqi POWs.”
By April, the Western New York reservists were ready to end their deployment, as many already had. “We, too, are ready to come home,” she wrote. “Life in the desert is difficult and not well-liked by many.”
She continued on active duty until May 1991, when her deployment ended, then was promoted to colonel in February 2001. She was honorably discharged in 2011.
In 2012, she was hired to oversee hospital emergency preparedness for the Western New York Healthcare Association, based in Tonawanda, said Liz Urbanski Farrell, director of Member Services and Government Relations for the association.
“Jayne worked closely with emergency preparedness officials at New York State and various county health departments, state emergency management, regional and statewide hospital associations, and hospitals across the region,” said Urbanski Farrell.
“Jayne was ready to lend a hand when needed,” said Urbanski Farrell, including helping member institutions cope with winter storms and flooding, as well as documenting and moving patients after a structural failure at a nursing facility.
“She was forever cheerful and down to business, learned all she could about emergency preparedness and worked well with her colleagues,” said Urbanski Farrell. “If anyone ever had a question about which doctor to see or any similar aspect of health care in Western New York, Jayne knew the answer ... She knew many prominent physicians on a first-name basis, and they knew Jayne.
“It is a great sadness that she left us in such a hurry,” said Urbanski Farrell.
At a dinner, Col. Cooley once revived a co-worker, said Urbanski Farrell, adding, “Those of us who were present view Jayne as saving that co-worker’s life.”
Besides her sister Barbara, Col. Cooley is survived by three brothers, Joseph E. Jr., Paul J. and Kevin P.; 10 nieces and nephews; 12 great-nieces and -nephews; four aunts and many cousins.
A Mass of Christian Burial with full military honors will be celebrated at 11 a.m. today in St. Margaret Church, 1395 Hertel Ave., Buffalo.
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Legion, www. legion.org/donate.
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