A Jarring Experience
"My career peaked before I could even remember," says Cook, a retired high school English teacher and grandmother of 10 who lives in Tampa, Fla., with her husband, Jim, 71, a former prison officer. The daughter of a cartoonist and a homemaker, she was a baby when Westport, Conn., infant portraitist Dorothy Hope Smith, a family friend, used her as a model in 1927. Two years later, when the fledgling Gerber was seeking a symbol, Smith submitted Cook's charcoal likeness, the face that launched millions of jars—actually, tin cans at first—of pureed prunes, peas and carrots. "The drawing," says Gerber's CEO Al Piergallini, "had universal appeal."
The significance of her Gerber gig, for which she received a belated $7,500 payment when she was 25 years old, didn't strike Cook until she had four kids of her own. "We'd go down the baby food aisle," she says. "They would stop people and say, 'My mother's picture is on those bottles.' I'd just smile politely and go on and let them think whatever they wanted to think." Indeed, Cook has been usually discreet about her achievement—because her students would rib her. But age has brought perspective. "It is," she says, "my immortality."