Franklin S. Cooper, expert on speech perception

Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 10, 1999

Franklin S. Cooper, expert on speech perception

Franklin Seaney Cooper, an expert on speech perception and synthesis, died Feb. 20. He was 90 and had lived in Palo Alto for the past 10 years.

Raised in the Midwest, he majored in physics at University of Illinois and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After earning his doctorate, he and his wife, Francis Edith Clem, married in 1935. That same year, he and partner Caryl P. Haskins, co-founded Haskins Laboratories, a Connecticut-based private, nonprofit research laboratory devoted to the study of speech and language. He served there as president and director of research for many years.

His primary interest, in speech synthesis and perception, led him to invent an early electromechanical device for synthesizing speech. It became a forerunner of contemporary computer-based speech programs.

He took a leave of absence only once, during World War II and shortly thereafter. From 1941-46 he came to Washington, D.C., at the request of Vannevar Bush, then science adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt, to take a position in the Office of Scientific Research and Development. During the war, he also consulted for several public entities, including the Department of Defense and the United Nations.

A second invitation to Washington came in 1973, when he was selected to form a panel of six experts charged with investigating the famous 18-minute gap in President Richard Nixon's Oval Office tapes discussing the Watergate conspiracy.

He received many awards and honoraria in his field, including an honorary doctor of science degree from Yale University in 1976. He had held appointments at several universities, including Yale and Stanford, where he became a fellow at the center for Advanced Behavioral Sciences in the mid-1960's.

He and his wife moved to Palo Alto in 1989. They loved being closer to their family and attending First United Methodist Church. His son Alan recalled how much his father enjoyed browsing at Bell's Books, where he had a penchant for literature from the 1920s, and going to Jim's Coffee Shop downtown. He particularly liked to take in the classic movies at the Stanford Theater as well.

He is survived by his sons, Alan Kent of Palo Alto and Robert Craig of Virginia; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Services will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. Contributions may be made to the Franklin S. Cooper Fellowship, c/o Betty Delise, Haskins Laboratories, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. 06511.

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