by Henry Lane Hull
“How’re we doing?” For anyone who has shopped at Tri-Star Supermarket in Kilmarnock over the last two decades, those are familiar words. They were spoken by Cookie Brown to each and every customer who passed through her checkout lane. Cookie was an institution in the local grocery milieu.
She greeted everyone whose groceries she processed with the level of friendliness she would have shown as if they had come as guests to visit in her home. When the customer would answer her question as to how he or she was doing and then ask Cookie herself, the response always would be the same, “I’m doing o.k.”
Cookie was a native of Baltimore, where she grew up attending local schools, thereafter she moved to the Northern Neck with her husband, William, and two daughters. The family settled in White Stone and Cookie found employment initially at The Tides Inn before moving over to Tri-Star where she made her lasting impression on the community.
In every respect, Cookie represented an old-fashioned form of marketing and customer service. She was dressed neatly, her hair in meticulous order and her concentration extraordinary. She had an eagle eye and knew precisely how to handle the cash register, bag up the groceries and send the patron along happy for having had the opportunity to chat, even though briefly, with her. She quickly came to know all her regular customers and we all came to know her.
When encountering a customer with a new item, she would ask how the person liked it. If it was something that she had not tried herself, she would want a full report, thereby finding out whether to buy it for herself or not. She also would offer suggestions for similar products.
If passing through another line at the checkout, the practice became requisite at least to say hello to Cookie upon leaving the store. Throughout all the years that I witnessed her constant attention to detail, I never saw her express any frustration with a customer or be anything less than patient and forbearing, sometimes quite admirably. Cookie was a dedicated practitioner of the adage, “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.”
Several years ago, Cookie received a serious medical diagnosis and had to leave the store during her period of treatment and recovery. As soon as she could return, she was “back in business,” to use in this case an aptly appropriate, although perhaps trite, metaphor. The store was her home away from home and she tried her best to make it the same for all of her customers.
Sadly, Cookie’s return to Tri-Star proved to be short-lived, as her illness recurred, but she did not give up hope of one day being back at the old stand. Last month Cookie died at the age of 65. Cookie was a diminutive person in her physical stature, but she was a tower of friendship and courtesy to everyone she encountered on her path through life.
As I was speaking with her co-worker, Amanda Elswick, last week, Amanda expressed the quintessential quality that endeared all of her friends and acquaintances to Cookie, “She loved everybody.”
Malcolma Renée “Cookie” Thomas Brown, August 11, 1954 – April 17, 2020. R.I.P.
As I was penning this item, I thought of the late Congressman Gilbert Gude of Maryland and the classic books, Where the Potomac Begins and Small Town Destiny, which chronicle the benefits and advantages of living in rural communities along the upper Potomac River Valley. At the time of his death in 2007, he was working on a book on the lower Potomac, which regrettably he did not finish. I do not know what Northern Neck towns he had intended to include in the final volume, but I had pushed for Kilmarnock. Cookie Brown was one of the many individuals who contributed her part to make Kilmarnock thus worthy. The two books are available on the internet and they make for great reading.