February 13, 2001
The local legend about TV news anchor Dan Rather’s connection to Perry is interesting to a lot of people for many reasons. Unfortunately, it remains just that – a legend, a myth. It is one of those curious tales that cannot be easily verified or disproved. Many people earnestly believe that Mr. Rather was born here and that his mother was the colorful Addie Rathers. An equal, or larger, number regard that story as a hoax. After hearing tales about this for many years, I remain convinced that it has no basis in truth.
The only documentation I have seen is a Xerox copy of a school enumeration (census) form signed by Addie Cook on January 19, 1938. (You will recall that her first husband was Mr. John Rathers. She later married Mr. Ed Cook. Hence, the different last names.) On that form, Mrs. Cook listed her three children as Johnnie Rathers, 19, born December 29, 1918; Georgie Rathers, 14, born April 28, 1923; and Andrew Rathers, 17, born January 1, 1920.) There is no mention of a son named Dan Rather, although he would have been born in roughly the same period as those three boys. Bertha E. Harris, the enumerator, who also served many years as assistant librarian at Perry Carnegie Library, countersigned the form. Mrs. Cook swore that those three were the names of all persons of school age. This form is on file at the courthouse in the office of Ronita Coldiron, county clerk. Bill Finley, former county school superintendent, called it to my attention. He told me that he remembered it because he has produced it previously when this same question was current.
When I asked the question in a column several days ago, many people told me the stories they had heard for years about the possible connection between the CBS newsman and the Perry lady. Some insist it is real, some are skeptical, and still others just don’t have enough solid information to make up their mind. I was born in this little city and grew up here when Addie Rathers Cook was still a familiar figure striding purposely around town. She was a tall, athletic-looking lady, usually smiling at everyone she met, including youngsters. She had a wide acquaintance. Many people remember seeing her through the years at funerals and other public gatherings. The only son I actually knew was Georgie Rathers, and I just remember him vaguely. Her three sons, Georgie, Johnnie and Andrew, were all named for Presidents of the U.S., I am told. Addie apparently had other children by Mr. Cook after she married him, and I am told that a daughter lives in Tonkawa.
The truth is out there, if we could only find documented evidence to back it up. I am most appreciative of all the calls and other contacts from people in this community in response to my question the other day: “Was Dan Rather born in Perry?” If nothing else, it has given us something to talk about on these dreary winter evenings as we await another spring. It’s better than surfing the TV channels, unsuccessfully, for something interesting to watch.