Throughout the past 50 years, Frederick E. (Fred) Cooper served almost too many roles to count from attorney, adviser and facilitator to consolidator, lobbyist, philanthropist and, of course, consummate Southern gentleman. But perhaps the biggest influence by the astute, politically minded businessman came as a champion for the baking industry and a leading advocate in Washington, D.C., against a formidable list of laws and federal regulations that continue to impact the bottom lines of bakeries throughout the country. Such leadership has earned him a spot in the American Society of Baking’s Baking Hall of Fame.
As an active member of the American Bakers Association (ABA), he served as chairman of BreadPAC, the ABA’s political action committee, where he restructured and strengthened fundraising and lobbying effectiveness by encouraging bakers to get politically involved in shaping how the laws and regulations affect the industry. He also served as ABA chairman and as an officer with the Independent Bakers Association and Quality Bakers of America.
A 1967 graduate of University of Georgia law school who served as a judge advocate and captain in the US Army, Mr. Cooper spent 17 years at Flowers Industries (now Flowers Foods), starting as the company’s first general counsel in 1973 and later as executive vice president, president and vice chairman. When it came to consolidation, he was the grandmaster at the art of negotiating. During his tenure at Flowers, he was responsible for closing dozens of acquisitions as the Thomasville, Ga.-based company’s annual sales rose from around $50 million to $1 billion.
In a letter before he passed away in 2022, lifelong friend Amos McMullian, former chairman and chief executive officer of Flowers Foods and 2019 Baking Hall of Fame inductee, described how the two shared a kindred spirit in the belief of personal and corporate citizenship, prioritizing involvement in the political process to support free enterprise and individual freedom. He added Mr. Cooper’s “standard for honesty and integrity, respect and inclusion” remains a cornerstone of Flowers’ philosophy.
After leaving Flowers to form CooperSmith bakeries in 1990, Mr. Cooper maintained his role as a consolidator. He made several acquisitions to create a $350 million, regional bakery powerhouse before selling it to Earthgrains (now part of Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa.) in 1998.
In a published report, Mr. Cooper attributed the sale of many family bakeries to the growth of regional and national grocery and foodservice chains along with a plethora of expensive regulations imposed on small companies.
His wide-ranging accomplishments in the political arena included being a long-term chairman of the Republican Party in Georgia and supporter and adviser to presidents George H.W. Bush and later George W. Bush. His charitable contributions range from the United Way to the American Cancer Society to saving African elephants and forming the Cooper Family Foundation.