To words and songs of faith, hope and love, an overflow crowd of some 3,000 mourners bade farewell on Thursday to Dr. Edward Perry Cooper, 46, and his daughters, Mary Catherine “Catie” Cooper, 16, and Elizabeth Minton “Libby” Cooper, 14, in a funeral service at Horner Hall in the Hot Springs Convention Center. 

Cooper, a Hot Springs oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and his daughters died in a single-engine airplane crash last Saturday while en route to Fayetteville to attend the Arkansas-Auburn basketball game. Dr. Martin Draper, a Hot Springs dentist and a passenger in the aircraft, was also killed. 

The flower-draped caskets of the three Cooper family members rested in the center of the Horner Hall stage. The daughters’ caskets were adorned with pink flowers while red carnations decorated their father’s casket. Above the stage was a large wooden cross. 

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a friend of Edward Cooper, was one of 32 pallbearers at the service. Honorary pallbearers included the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Cooper’s University of Arkansas fraternity, members of the Garland County Dental Society, the Christian Family of Lake Valley Community Church, the junior and senior high school Lakeside cheerleaders and the Arkansas Repertory Young Artists. 

As the crowd entered Horner Hall and took their seats, a pianist played a selection of spiritual songs, including “In the Garden,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Amazing Grace.” Slides depicting the lives of Edward, Catie and Libby Cooper were shown on two large screens adjacent to the auditorium stage. 

Pastor Lamar Trieschmann officiated at the service. Cooper’s son, Edward Perry “E.P.” Cooper, who along with his mother, Cheryl, survives Dr. Cooper, Catie and Libby, addressed service attendees with his grandfather and uncles nearby on the stage. 

“My dad truly was my hero,” E.P. Cooper said. “Dad had a passion for life like no other. In so many things, he was our rock. He taught how to live hard but to work hard. He taught us to go for our dreams. He was a total encourager and an extreme optimist.” 

He said his mother and father’s life together “began as the perfect love story.” 

“They met in college and dad always prided himself in knowing that their first date was May 12, 1984,” Cooper said. “They were friends for three years before that, but both said they knew they had found the love of their lives that night.” 

Cooper said his “two beautiful sisters” had a strong religious faith. 

“Both Catie and Libby had such a huge heart for the Lord,” Cooper said. “They loved their heavenly Father so much because they had such an inspiring and loving earthly father, my dad.” 

Cooper said his sister, Catie, “not only loved her family and friends, but she also loved animals.” He recalled how particular Catie had been in finding homes for 19 puppies born of the family’s Labrador retriever. 

Cooper said Libby “was always making everyone laugh.” 

“She would walk around the house singing at the top of her lungs. She and Catie prided themselves also in making good grades, in making good choices,” the Cooper son said. 

Cooper said Jesus Christ “will certainly be the first to hold them in his arms and kiss them on the face.” 

Cooper joked that his dad would be “madder than anything that all these people are here and he didn’t get to talk to anybody.” E.P Cooper said that his father did not get to walk his daughters down the aisle to get married, “but he got to walk them into heaven.” 

E.P. Cooper said “another thing he had learned” in the time since the deaths of his father and sisters “is to hold your loved ones close because you really never know when they’re going to be gone.” He concluded his remarks by thanking the audience, on behalf of himself and his mother, for attending the service. 

“We love all of y’all, thank you,” he said. 

The audience responded with loud applause. 

A video of slides and film clips depicting Edward, Catie and Libby Cooper’s lives individually and together followed E.P. Cooper’s address. Near the end of the video presentation was a picture of the Cooper family walking together on a beach. On the last photo in the presentation, one of Edward Cooper, were the words of Matthew 28:20, “For I am with you always.” 

Trieschmann began the funeral message by quoting what he said was Libby Cooper’s favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” 

“That’s really appropriate right now,” the minister said. 

Trieschmann described Libby Cooper as “an outgoing, fantastic young lady.” 

“In our minds, and certainly in her mind, she was our ‘American Idol,’” he said. “She loved to sing and dance. One of her friends said Libby was her role model because you wanted her to be your friend and you knew that she put Christ Jesus first in her life,” Trieschmann said. “We’re going to miss you, Libby.” 

Trieschmann said Catie Cooper “lived life with no regrets.” 

“According to her friends, there was never a dull moment in Catie’s life,” he said. “She always found the fun way to do things. She hated school but made straight A’s. She loved Camp Ozark, orange Kool-Aid and chocolate milkshakes at the Purple Cow and her Patagonia jacket.” 

The pastor said Edward and Cheryl Cooper were “so proud of Libby and Catie – how they put Christ first in their lives.” 

“Cheryl talked about their purity and their virtue. She said they were God-fearing young ladies,” Trieschmann said. “They were a wonderful family.” 

Trieschmann said Edward Cooper “loved God, he loved his family and he loved all of us.” 

“He’s the kind of guy that you wanted in a crisis,” Trieschmann said. “I’ve been with him in a crisis and he was the man.” 

Trieschmann said he found a verse in the front of Edward Cooper’s Bible, Hebrews 11, saying, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for – and the conviction of things not seen.” 

“I feel that that’s very appropriate right now,” Trieschmann said. “I feel that a lot of us in Hot Springs have been asking some hard questions. Hard questions like why? Why did God allow these three to pass from us?” 

Trieschmann said some have said “it’s not fair” that the three Coopers were taken in the prime of life. 

“I would agree – it is not fair. But today, I want to ask a deeper question, does God suffer? Does God suffer because of our grief?” Trieschmann said. “I have no doubt that Edward and Catie and Libby were in the center of the will of God before that plane crash. I have no doubt that these three were following Christ and loved him with all their hearts. 

“The only way that this can make sense to all of us is to believe that we were made for another world. Without a doubt, this is a tragedy – one like I’ve never experienced as a pastor. The only thing I can tell you is that we have hope of another world. Tragedy is not fair and this an example of that.”

He said those facing tragedies can either sink into despair or cynicism or can take action like God did in the death of Jesus Christ. 

“He made a way possible in tragedy for us the church,” Trieschmann said. “I live – just as these three did – out of faith, hope and love – love, hope and faith in another world.” 

Trieschmann then prayed, “Our father in heaven, you’ve seen Edward and Catie and Libby – give us today the faith and hope to see in this suffering that trusting you, when we don’t understand all things, is actually is actually very, very pleasing. Help us all to walk in faith through this. Help this family by giving them peace in this sorrow.” 

The service concluded with Arkansas Repertory Theatre members singing a medley of “Oh Happy Day!” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” 

The funeral service program contained “A Message from Cheryl and E.P” in which the two “as well as their entire family, wish to extend their heartfelt gratitude for the outpouring of love and prayers you have given us. Our love has blessed us and will continue to lead us.” 

(Catie Cooper and her father were to have participated in fifth annual American Heart Association’s gala fundraiser “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” on Saturday. The fundraiser has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 19, in Horner Hall.)