When Cooke was 13, his father died at the age of 45, after working his entire adult life in the Coalwood mine. His mother then began working in the school cafeteria to support the two of them.
Cooke later attended Big Creek High School. It was there that Cooke and his friends Jimmy "O'Dell" Carroll, Homer Hickam, Jr., Billy Rose, Sherman Siers and Quentin Wilson formed the Big Creek Missile Agency. Cooke was a member of the football team, too, playing running back. In addition, he was active in a variety of clubs in high school. The thespian club named him best thespian during his senior year at BCHS.
After graduating high school, Cooke began his college career at Concord College in Athens, West Virginia. He later transferred to the University of Maryland where he earned a degree. He is also a graduate of the American Institute of Banking in Washington, D.C.
Now retired from banking after 25 years in that profession, Cooke has been President of Carolina Domestic Coal since 1986. He is the owner of The Cooke Company, a company devoted to bringing new businesses and venture capital into West Virginia.
He maintains a wide range of civic and business interests in the Appalachian area, including support of the West Virginia Access Center for Higher Education. Additionally, he has New Horizons Computer Learning Centers in several states, and started the Prodigy Foundation to support education and jobs in West Virginia. Each year, The Prodigy Foundation awards an outstanding teacher that has overcome great obstacles to be in that profession, The West Virginia School Teacher of the Year, in memory of Frieda Riley, his high school science teacher.
He started the History & Culture Institute of Mining in 2007, and besides the museum, has worked to establish a National Miner's Day. As a result of his grassroot effort, helped to cause the State of West Virginia to create a State Miner's Day in 2006. In 2008, he was appointed to the Board of the Mission West Virginia Foundation.
Cooke has appeared at several colleges and other organizations throughout the country. He has presented keynote speeches at the West Virginia Small Business Administration and the Appalachian College Association. He also regularly speaks at schools and libraries nationwide.
Governor Underwood named him a Distinguished West Virginian in 1999, and in 2002, the current Governor, Manchin, then Secretary of State, appointed him a Member of the 35th Star. In 2012, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin also named him a Distinguished West Virginian.
Cooke resides in Irmo, South Carolina. However, he divides his time between his businesses in West Virginia and South Carolina.