Plastic surgeon Thomas Andrew “Butch” Cochran Jr. had not planned to settle down here, when he and his wife were passing through 40 years ago.
They had planned to live in Panama City, Fla., back in 1977, when he’d just finished his residency in St. Lake City. Panama City was closer to wife Susan Marland Cochran’s hometown of Jackson, Miss., where she grew up admiring Mississippi authors such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.
Down in Panama City, they picked out a home and an office, and then Butch Cochran took his wife out to see the beach.
And that’s when their lives took a sharp U-turn about 185 miles north, to Columbus, Ga.
Cochran, 71, was found dead Friday at his Harris County home. At age 65, his wife died of a brain tumor July 14, 2011. Both were passionate about the arts and about Columbus Cottonmouths’ hockey, and were well known to folks around town.
A memorial service for Dr. Cochran is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at Columbus’ First Baptist Church, 212 12th St., with visitation starting there at 10 a.m., according to Striffler-Hamby Mortuary.
After his wife died, he in her name established a Faulkner program for student writers through Columbus State University’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians.
That program kicked off in 2012, five years ago, when he told the story of how they came to Columbus and chose to stay.
They’d met in 1971, in Dallas, where she was a teacher with a master’s degree from Southern Methodist University, and he was doing his residency in general surgery at Baylor University Hospital.
They lived in the same singles apartments, and got to be friends before their friendship led to love and to marriage, and eventually to that sojourn in Panama City, Fla., where Butch took Susan to see the beach.
“So we rode out to Panama City Beach on the Fourth of July,” he remembered. “She broke into tears and said, ‘I’m not living anywhere near this place.’ It was wall-to-wall teenagers. So I said, ‘Let’s go to Chattanooga.’”
That’s where his family was from. So they started driving toward Tennessee.
“We were coming through Columbus, and she woke up. It was about 8 o’clock. She’d been asleep in the front seat. She saw the sign that said ‘Columbus City Limits.’ We’d done our residency in Dallas with Bill and Janet Amos from Columbus. And she said, ‘Stop here. We’re going to spend the night with Janet. I’m tired.’ To make a long story short, we got up the next morning and bought a house.”
Their interest in the arts led them to review the local offerings.
“I think we’d been here about three weeks, and we went to see the Columbus Symphony down at the old Three Arts Theater, and I remember we left there that night, and she was real quiet; she just didn’t say anything. And I said, ‘What is the matter with you?’ and she said, ‘We can do better than this.’ She went home that night and started working on ways to raise money for the symphony. She just never slowed down for the 40 years that she was here.”
She was on the boards of the Columbus Museum, the Historic Columbus Foundation and the Columbus Symphony. She served as administrator of the Mildred Miller Fort Foundation and a director of the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens.
“When she did something, she threw her heart into it,” Butch Cochran recalled. “She just became passionate about the arts in Columbus, and took that on as her project.”
The Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley has a Susan M. Cochran Fund, to which her 2011 obituary directed memorial donations.
But her widowed husband wanted something signifying her love of literature, particularly the works of William Faulkner.
Each year she had attended the “Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference” at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, a summer program exploring the author’s place in Southern culture. In her name, he funded a trust so that each year, four CSU faculty or students could go to it. All they had to do was fill out an application and submit a 500-word essay to the McCullers Center.
Twenty CSU teachers and students have attended the Faulkner conference over the past five years.
The Susan M. Cochran Memorial Endowment for Faulkner Studies since has changed, said Nick Norwood, the McCullers Center’s current director.
“Working closely with Dr. Cochran, the McCullers Center amended the endowment this past year in order to offer a competitive scholarship to incoming students at CSU who want to study literature,” Norwood wrote in an email. “Students earning the scholarship receive up to four years of support, enroll in a seminar or directed study on the work of William Faulkner, and attend the summer conference in Mississippi the summer of their junior year.”
Butch Cochran was an experienced horseman, and kept horses on his Harris County land, which is next to the late Florence Lynn’s. Lynn, a longtime environmentalist, left her acreage to Columbus State University.
Priscilla Marshall, a close friend of Lynn’s, recalled the doctor’s coming by to check on his neighbor.
“She was probably in her late 70s, and had had a major heart attack,” Marshall recalled. “Butch stopped in, checked her vitals, and then told her he could do a tummy tuck and ‘lift’ anytime she was ready. She really got a big kick out of him teasing her, and it was obviously mutual.”
Cochran loved to tell how he first met Lynn: He rode his horse up to her house to introduce himself, and she met him with a shotgun.
He got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia in 1967 and completed his medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia in 1971. His surgical internship and three-year surgical residency were at Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, according to the Columbus Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Clinic. His two-year residency in Salt Lake City was at the University of Utah, the clinic said.
He served on the the board of directors of the Chattahoochee Council of Boy Scouts and on the board of the St. Francis Hospital Association. He played in a local adult hockey league, and he and his wife sponsored a Columbus Cottonmouths player.
Found in a pond on his Harris County property, he was pronounced dead at 11:19 p.m. Friday, said Coroner Joe Weldon. Weldon said no foul play is suspected.