Mother of the Year
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"Raising kids is where you experience your greatest joys and your greatest heartache as well," said Judy Cook, the national Mother of the Year for 2013. "You have got to have a great sense of humor. Sometimes you have got to laugh because it's the only thing you can do in a tough situation."
Sister Cook, a member of the Church in Vineyard, Utah, was named Mother of the Year on April 27 by American Mothers, Inc., an inter-faith, non-political, nonprofit organization that seeks to "champion women by honoring, educating and serving mothers at home, at work and in the world." Every year the organization selects mothers from nominees in the United States as the national Mother of the Year and the Young Mother of the Year. Women are also selected for both titles in each of the 50 states and some U.S. territories. (LDS women who represented their states were listed in the Church News for the week of May 12.)
Sister Cook was born and raised in San Diego, Calif. She grew up with her parents and sister in a "very happy and loving home." Her mother, June Hughes Payne, was a stay-at-home mom who always kept the home immaculate and orderly. Sister Cook said she learned a lot from her about how to keep her own home.
Judy Payne met her future husband, Fred Cook, when she was a senior in high school through her best friend, Sue McMaster. She wasn't that interested in him but settled for a date. He arranged for their first date to be at her home so he could meet her parents, Frank and June Payne. After that, Judy decided Fred was way too "geeky" for her and avoided his phone calls. A year later, Fred ended up in her college sociology class about courtship and marriage. Her opinion changed as she saw how he interacted with his fellow classmates. Soon they started dating. They've now been married for 51 years.
Sister Cook received her bachelor's and master's degrees in education from San Diego State University. She taught kindergarten until she had children, then stayed home to raise her family. Today, she works part-time assisting a special education teacher.
About 12 years into their marriage, the Cooks had two young daughters and started to realize that they wanted to find a new church to attend. They grew up in different Christian denominations. When they married, they joined a church together. Around the time their daughters were born, they weren't attending any church but were eager to find one to attend as a family.
The same best friend, Sue, who had introduced Sister Cook to her husband had also decided to attend Brigham Young University in Provo at the recommendation of a high school teacher. There, Sue met and married a returned missionary, Bob Roberts, and was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All her friends and family, including Judy Cook, thought Sue had gone off the deep end, but they maintained contact through letters.
When the Cooks began looking for a religion, they remembered Sue and Bob Roberts and decided to look into their church. They called the full-time missionaries and visited with them and later with the stake missionaries for about two years. The Cooks really connected with the stake missionaries and became good friends.
"Even during the times that we really cooled off towards the Church, they were still there," Sister Cook said. "They loved us unconditionally and didn't stop being our friends."
The couple was baptized and confirmed 40 years ago. They have served faithfully in many callings in the Church. Today, they have three daughters, one son and 12 grandchildren.
The Cooks' third daughter, Marianne Richardson, said her mother always took in all of her children's friends as if they were her own. A few friends even lived in the Cooks' home for periods of time. Sister Richardson said when she posted on Facebook about her mother's nomination as Mother of the Year, several of these friends commented that they felt like Sister Cook was their mom too.
"People feel like they can go to her when they need something," Sister Richardson said. "I think she's really open, she's easy to talk to and she loves being a mom."
Two years ago the Cooks moved to Vineyard, Utah, from San Diego to be closer to most of their children and grandchildren, a move that Sister Richardson said is a sign of how much she loves them.
"It was just killing her to be so far away from the grandkids and her kids," she said. "It really is her whole life."
Sister Richardson, mother of six children, is following in her mother's footsteps and was nominated as the Young Mother of the Year for the city of Provo, Utah. She said she only ever wanted to be a mom when she grew up because of the example that her mother set. She knew the greatest joy in her mom's life was being a mom, and that had an impact on her.
Brother Cook said when he first heard about American Mothers, he immediately knew he had to nominate his wife.
"She is the epitome of motherhood," he said. When Sister Cook was announced as the national Mother of the Year he said he was "shocked, but not surprised" because he knew his wife deserved the title.
"I can't say enough good about her. She amazes me every day with the things that she is capable of doing," he said.
One of the unique qualities that she brought to her family, Brother Cook said, is her ability to listen.
"It is important for all of us to be around people who hear what we're saying without being judgmental," he said. "She's never judgmental with the children and never with me. It's probably one of the primary reasons I love her as much as I do."
Sister Cook said that, for mothers everywhere, she would stress the importance of consistency, unconditional love and unwavering patience — "and those are tough."
"Don't be too hard on yourself," she said. "Motherhood is not an easy calling, but it's definitely a calling. Rely on your Heavenly Father. They're His children too; we're just entrusted with them for a certain period of time. Just do your very best. No one can ask you to do any more than your very best."
Sister Cook said mothers have important roles in the lives of their children.
"It's really the nurturing of the mother that can help the child thrive," she said. "The most important thing that a woman can do is raise a child."