Book signing: “Finding Strong” by Claude Cooper

Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 / 3 - 4 p.m. / University Bookstore

Claude Cooper, father of Leigh Cooper Wallace, will sign copies of the book “Finding Strong.” This was a project Wallace was writing with him when she passed away in 2012. Cooper finished it.

Books will be available for sale during the signing, and will also be available at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts after the Walk for Awareness.

About “Finding Strong”

Cooper and his daughter Leigh began writing “Finding Strong” in the summer 2012, inspired by the overwhelmingly positive reactions to recently aired television programs telling of Leigh's story of survival and inspiration related to her 1989 abduction and sexual assault while in college by the man who five days earlier had abducted and murdered Jeni Gray.

As Daniel Lee was assaulting Leigh, he tormented her by describing in detail how he had killed Jeni. Leigh kept her wits and managed to escape. Before that night was over, she had helped authorities put him behind bars. Her subsequent testimony at trial ensured the man received the death penalty for his crimes against Jeni Gray. Leigh's detailed description of the three hours she spent with Lee is riveting, revealing her thought process as she contemplated a violent death.

Leigh went on to finish her education at Appalachian, becoming one of the greatest runners in Southern Conference history as she won four conference championships in track during her senior year. She then became a cross-country coach, leading Watauga High to four state championships and six state runner-up finishes over a 10-year period. Leigh was also a health and physical exercise teacher at Watauga High and adjunct professor at Appalachian. In 2011, Leigh became the first coach of Watauga High’s girls lacrosse team. Beyond all this, Leigh dedicated the last 24 years of her life to helping others find their strength, to helping victims regain control of their lives.

Leigh died of MRSA pneumonia in December 2012, having completed about half of a first draft of the book. The estimated 3,000 people who attended Leigh’s visitation and funeral were indicative of the tremendous influence she had on the lives of so many. Determined that Leigh's story be told, her father spent the next four years, with the help of his wife and other family members, completing the book. It was published in December 2016.

Leigh is a member of the Watauga County Sports Hall of Fame and the Appalachian State University Athletic Hall of Fame.

About Claude Cooper

Claude Cooper of Clemson, South Carolina, is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and former professor of military science and battalion commander of the Mountaineer Battalion at Appalachian State University. He also served as the university’s director of administrative support services until his second retirement in 2001.

Cooper is also the author of a memoir, “Leavings: Honeycutt to Cooper Ridge,” published in 2013.