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Carrie Rozelle, 70; widow of NFL commissioner advocated for learning-disabled children

November 03, 2007|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Carrie Rozelle, the widow of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and founder of the nonprofit National Center for Learning Disabilities, died Monday at her home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. She was 70.

Rozelle, who became an advocate for children with learning disabilities because of experiences with her own family, had been in declining health since undergoing surgery for a malignant brain tumor in 1994, her son Philip Kent Cooke said.

Before marrying Pete Rozelle in 1973, she was married for 16 years to Ralph Kent Cooke, an advertising executive whose father was Jack Kent Cooke, a wealthy Canadian businessman who at one time owned the Lakers, the Kings, the Washington Redskins and the Forum in Inglewood.

She and Ralph Kent Cooke had three sons and a daughter. Two of the boys -- named Jack and Ralph -- had learning disabilities, she told a Times reporter in 1985, and the family searched for ways to overcome their difficulties. But information about dyslexia and other problems was scant and resources for parents were inadequate, so in 1977 Rozelle formed what was originally called the Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities.

Her goal was to educate the public about learning disabilities and, using her contacts in the entertainment and business fields, bring together experts who could help other parents and children in need.

"Carrie was a visionary," James H. Wendorf, the foundation's executive director, said this week in an interview. "Because of who she was and who she was able to attract to the field, she raised awareness" of learning disabilities.

The New York City-based organization became a clearinghouse for authoritative information and continues to guide families to schools, camps, vocational activities and other nationwide programs, some of which receive grant funding from the foundation.

Since 2000, the foundation has annually awarded the Pete and Carrie Rozelle Award to public schools that support students with learning disabilities.

Born Oct. 31, 1936, in Toronto, she trained as a nurse before marrying Cooke. They moved to California in the early 1960s. After their divorce and her remarriage, she moved with her family from L.A. to New York.

When Pete Rozelle retired in 1989 after 29 years as NFL commissioner, Carrie stepped down as the foundation's chairwoman and they moved to Rancho Santa Fe. Pete Rozelle died of brain cancer in 1996.

In addition to her sons, Philip of Tiburon, Calif., and Ralph of Lexington, Ky., she is survived by daughter Jeannie MacEachern of Santa Clarita; a sister, Peggy Walshe of Kitchener, Canada; and five grandchildren. Son Jack Kent Cooke II died unexpectedly in 1989 at age 26.

Services were held this week in Del Mar, Calif. The family suggests that donations be made to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 381 Park Ave. S., Suite 1401, New York, NY 10016; or the Santa Monica Wellness Center, 1137 2nd St., Suite 116, Santa Monica, CA 90403.


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