Alfred Bramwell Cook was born at Gisborne on 7 March 1903, the third of four children of Edith Emily Britton and her husband, Henry Charles Cook, a Salvation Army officer. Henry had served in England and Australia and, after marrying Edith, a comrade officer, had been transferred to New Zealand in 1901. Edith died in 1909, and while Henry carried on with his evangelical work the boys were sent to the Salvation Army Mercy Jenkins Boys’ Home at Eltham. Here, during a six-year stay, Bramwell learned sound study habits and became dux of the Eltham primary school. Henry married another comrade officer, Captain Maude Bright, early in 1916 and the family was reunited.
His parents’ constant movement from one appointment to another might have been expected to prejudice Bramwell’s scholastic progress, but he took the changes of school in his stride. At Waitaki Boys’ High School he became a protégé of its nationally known headmaster, Frank Milner, who offered him a free boarding place to avoid disruption of his studies when his parents were transferred away from Oamaru. Bramwell responded by becoming dux of the school in 1919 and winning a university scholarship in 1920.
Cook began studying for an arts degree at Auckland University College in 1921. However, answering a challenge to dedicate his life to medical missionary work, and through the generosity of a benefactor, he switched to medical studies at the University of Otago. In 1923 he completed his arts degree while studying medicine, and in 1924 he became the first recipient of the Scott Memorial Medal for anatomy. He graduated in 1928 with first place in the medical school and that year was awarded a medical travelling scholarship. He went to Great Britain in 1929 and within a year became FRCSE, MRCP and was awarded the Duncan Medal as the premier student of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1931 he entered the Salvation Army’s International Training College in London, and in 1932 took up an appointment as chief medical officer of the Salvation Army’s Emery Hospital, Anand, Gujarat, India.
Bramwell Cook married Dorothy Frances Money, a fellow Salvation Army member whom he had met in New Zealand, on 21 February 1935 at Anand. That year he was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for distinguished public service in India. Research in nutritional anaemia and sprue carried out at his mission hospital led to the award of the New Zealand MD degree. During the 22 years of Cook’s leadership the Emery Hospital grew from 60 to 255 beds, with a medical staff of 10, a tuberculosis wing, and training schools in nursing and physiotherapy. Cook became known throughout the area as the ‘White Gujerati’.
In 1954 Cook was appointed chief secretary (second in command) of the Salvation Army in New Zealand, one of the exceptional occasions in the Army’s history when such an appointment was given to an individual who had not commanded a corps, a division or a territorial department. His nine-year term based in Wellington was significant in several respects. He revived and completely revolutionised the Army’s work among alcoholics with the establishment of the Bridge Programme; he brought a penetrating intelligence to bear on aspects of the wide-ranging social work, and new perspectives to the Army’s evangelical mission; and he did a great deal to raise the profile of the Salvation Army in ecumenical circles.
Cook injected a freshness, vigour and a freedom from protocol into his administrative tasks. The brilliance of his academic and missionary achievements coupled with a disarming humility of spirit was a great example to young people; and his keen understanding of the attitudes and ethos of the average New Zealander served as an ideal counterweight to the American, Australian and British ideas of the three commissioners with whom he worked. Cook served as president of the New Zealand Alliance, and as an executive member of CORSO, the National Society on Alcoholism, and the National Council of Churches in New Zealand. His booklet, Drug taking and drug addiction , had a circulation of over 20,000 in New Zealand and Australia.
In 1961 Cook, as chairman of the commission on missions and inter-church aid of the National Council of Churches, was a member of the New Zealand delegation to the assembly of the World Council of Churches at Delhi, India. Before this assembly Cook was commissioned by General Wilfred Kitching, world leader of the Salvation Army, to undertake a tour of inspection of all Salvation Army hospitals in India.
Cook was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commissioner in 1963 and appointed to the command of the Australia Eastern Territory of the Salvation Army. This involved the oversight of all Army work in New South Wales, Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Among his achievements in this appointment was the establishment of the Bridge Programme for alcoholics in seven cities, and a rewarding term as president of the Australian Council of Churches.
In 1968 Cook officially retired from active service as a Salvation Army officer, and returned to New Zealand to begin a new life as a busy general medical practitioner in Christchurch. His concern for the needy and those dependent on alcohol and drugs never abated. He had become legendary in both the medical profession and the Salvation Army. In 1982 he was made a CBE, and in 1983 he was admitted to the Order of the Founder, the Salvation Army’s highest award. Throughout his life he successfully combined the callings to minister to body and soul. Failing health forced him in his late 80s to give up his medical practice, and following the death of his wife, Dorothy, in 1992, he was cared for at the Salvation Army’s Bethany Village in Christchurch. He died at Princess Margaret Hospital on 1 June 1994 aged 91, survived by four sons and one daughter.