Kelvin Covington said he remembers his friend, Steven Cooper, whenever he reads his Bible.
The book, Covington said, represents Cooper’s ability to get the most out of people by introducing them to the right conduits.
It was Cooper who introduced Covington to a local pastor almost three decades ago, and that meeting spurred a friendship that led to a very important gift for Covington: the Bible he continues to use daily.
“I’ll always have that link with Steven,” Covington said. “He really helped me with a lot of things — how to be a leader and how to strengthen my faith.”
Cooper and Covington became friends during the 1989 MSU Student Association election.
The two former Mississippi State University graduates broke significant racial barriers that year as the first black president and vice president, respectively, of the school’s Student Association.
This week, Covington and others affected by Cooper over the years learned of his death.
Cooper, 52, died Monday in Houston, Texas, after losing the battle with cancer.
Friends reacting to Cooper’s death on social media this week described the MSU graduate as a compassionate man, champion of others and positive mentor.
“Steven Cooper was a groundbreaking young man who enjoyed the respect of his classmates and served MSU with distinction. The university mourns his untimely passing,” said MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter.
Covington succeeded Cooper as SA president once his term was complete. He said Cooper’s mentoring helped him serve his university better in both the vice president and president roles.
“He was the right kind of leader you need — one that’s compassionate but still gives you straight advice that helps you make better decisions. He was a very kind and caring person, and he just had a different aura about him,” Covington said. “What he accomplished was unprecedented, and I think it helped elevate the whole university.
“I think he understood the significance of his election and my election more than I did at the time,” he added. “We shared a lot of great moments and a lot of great relationships together, and those times together is something I’ll never forget.”
Many of Cooper’s friends acknowledged his battle with cancer on social media, a condition both Covington and Cadence Bank Vice Chairman Jimmy Abraham said Cooper tried to downplay or minimize with others.
Abraham, who served in a variety of roles within MSU’s division of student affairs, met Cooper in 1984 as the then-student served as a Road Runner and orientation leader. His working relationship continued with Cooper after he was elected student body president.
“Steven Cooper had a heart of gold. There was nothing he would not do for anyone. He will forever be remembered as being an inspiration, a mentor, a loyal friend and an outstanding, humble servant-leader,” Abraham said. “Steven loved Mississippi State and helped our university in numerous ways — as Student Association president and as a proud alumnus — by what he said and, in particular, what he did. His legacy will never die, for he had a significant impact on the lives of so many.”
Cooper’s visitation will be held from noon to 5 p.m. on Monday at Troy B. Smith Professional Services Chapel in Houston. Funeral services are scheduled at noon Friday at New Horizon Church in Jackson. Graveside services will follow at Shady Grove Cemetery in Crystal Springs.
Current SA President Roxanne Raven said the student group will plan something to honor Cooper as part of the its centennial celebration this month.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch