One idea raced through Carolyn Nell Sargent’s mind as her mother began to land her single-engine Mooney airplane at the old Albuquerque airport without knowing if the landing gear was working.
“We’re going to die,” Sargent recalled of the incident that happened years ago.
But the landing gear came through, the plane made a safe landing and the emergency personnel gathered below all breathed a sigh of relief.
“And it was just like my mother to say, ‘Hey, we’ll be fine,’ ” Sargent said. “And we were.”
Carolyn Jean Huey Sargent Cook, a pilot, teacher, volunteer and adventurer, died Oct. 8 at her Santa Fe home of ovarian cancer. She was 89.
“She wasn’t reckless,” Sargent said of her mother, who earned a private pilot’s license in 1963. “Well, maybe a little reckless. But she always found a way to do what she wanted to do, whether it was flying, teaching, going to the beach or having a bunch of people over for dinner.
“She was super curious about the world, very optimistic and vibrant, and intellectually engaged with the world.”
Cook, who along with Ann Lacy and Nichoe Lichen was named one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made a Difference in 2000 for working to preserve the Old Pecos Trail as a scenic gateway to the city, was born July 3, 1930, in Peoria, Ill. She developed an early love for animals and the outdoors, reveling in riding her pony Teddy to school as a child. (Years later, as a married adult with children, she attempted to adopt a goat from a nearby farm, but her husband would have none of it.)
After earning degrees in biology and chemistry from Arizona State University and the University of Illinois, she set to work as a teacher, a career she returned to years later at Santa Fe High School in the 1990s.
“She liked the subject matter and she liked teaching people just like she liked learning things,” her daughter said.
After moving to Santa Fe in 1985 with one of her former husbands (she was married three times), Cook embarked on what her daughter calls a “nonlinear career.” She sold real estate, managed an art gallery, worked — and served on the board — at the Center for Contemporary Arts and served as president of the Aviation Association of Santa Fe.
Flying may have been the love of her life, her daughter said: “She liked the freedom of it.”
When Cook had to give up her pilot’s license at age 80, she broke into tears as she watched a friend fly her Mooney from Santa Fe back east, where Cook’s son would take possession of it.
“That was like the saddest day of her life,” Sargent said.
Cook also volunteered for Court Appointed Special Advocates of the First Judicial District (also known as CASA First), which supports and promotes court-appointed volunteers to serve as advocates for abused and neglected foster children in Santa Fe.
“You need to be determined in that job, and she was determined,” said Annie Rasquin, executive director of CASA First. “She was graceful, elegant but very tough, irreverent and funny and brilliant — and tough. She was unflappable, unstoppable. She wasn’t someone you could say ‘no’ to.”
Rasquin said she and a number or her co-workers were talking about Cook at work this week. “God, we all wanted to be like her,” she said.
Cook played the piano, loved music and the arts, enjoyed gardening, cooking and hiking, her daughter said. In addition to her daughter, Carolyn Sargent, she is survived by another daughter, Kitty Sargent, and a son, Henry Sargent III, as well as grandchildren and a niece and nephew.
Cook’s memorial service will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at Unitarian Universalist Church, 107 W. Barcelona Road.