It is with great sadness that Kilmer House notes the passing of Aldrage B. Cooper, a pioneering African American leader at Johnson & Johnson and in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Born and raised in New Brunswick, Cooper served as the city’s first African American mayor from 1974 to 1975. As a Johnson & Johnson leader, he exemplified the company’s Credo values and commitment to the community.
Aldrage Cooper joined Johnson & Johnson in 1968 as Director of Public Affairs, and remained with the company until his retirement in 2000 as Vice President of Corporate Affairs. During his tenure at Johnson & Johnson, he was instantly recognizable for his height (he was 6’7” tall), and he was known and admired for his public service and commitment to the community. A copy of his official company biography in our archives exemplifies the strength of his commitment: it begins not by highlighting a list of his responsibilities (as is typical in official biographies) but by highlighting his service to others: “In combining corporate duties with civic responsibilities, Aldrage B. Cooper, Jr. continues a longstanding Johnson & Johnson commitment to involvement in community and public affairs.” [Aldrage B. Cooper, Jr. undated biography, circa 1974, Johnson & Johnson Archives.] In carrying out these responsibilities, Cooper continued a Johnson & Johnson tradition that dates back to the company’s founding in New Brunswick in 1886.
Like John Heldrich, another Johnson & Johnson leader who devoted himself to helping the community, Aldrage Cooper grew up in close proximity to the company at which he would spend the majority of his career. Johnson & Johnson has been part of New Brunswick since its founding there in 1886, when James Wood Johnson rented the building that became the company’s first manufacturing facility. From the beginning, Johnson & Johnson and its hometown were inextricably connected: the community invested in the tiny, innovative new business founded to help make surgery sterile, and Johnson & Johnson began its tradition of giving back to New Brunswick in 1887, during its first full year as a company. Since then, Johnson & Johnson’s employees have embraced service to the community and have nurtured it into one of the proudest traditions in the company’s long heritage.
Aldrage Cooper made history as the city’s first African American mayor in 1974, directly following the administration of Patricia Sheehan, who served as New Brunswick’s first woman mayor. Cooper and Sheehan were part of the “New Five” candidates who initially came into office in 1967, a group of innovative young leaders who worked to ease tensions in New Brunswick and help take the city into the future. At Johnson & Johnson, Aldrage Cooper was a champion of diversity and inclusion, and worked with external stakeholders to help drive civic improvements and economic development that bettered the lives of New Jersey residents.
Mr. Cooper’s numerous community activities included serving as president of the New Brunswick City Council from 1969 to 1974; as Commisioner of Parks & Public Property from 1967 to 1969 as Chairman of the Urban Open Space Subcommittee of the Open Space Policy Commission from 1969 to 1974; as Vice President of the New Brunswick Board of Education from 1965 to 1967; and as Vice President of the Urban League of Greater New Brunswick from 1963 to 1965. He served on the Board of Trustees of Newark State College from 1967 to 1968 and on the Board of Trustees of Rutgers University. As an African American leader at Johnson & Johnson, he helped blaze a trail of leadership and served as a role model to so many who followed in his footsteps, as well as exemplifying the highest ideals of service to the community in Our Credo.