By Katie Fallon

The July 22 memorial for Big Tree Forest Preserve director Charlie Cochrane saw no shortage of mourners who sang praises of Cochrane’s dedication to the nature park. The following is a selection of comments from those who knew and worked with Cochrane over the years.

“I met Charlie in the forest, but not this forest. Charlie loved Big Trees, but if he ever cheated on Big Trees, it was with Schweitzer [Nature Preserve]. We showed up in the middle of the woods and this guy comes tromping out of the woods with his cap on and a whole bunch of privet trailing behind him and said, ‘Hey, I’m Charlie.’ That was the beginning of a relationship that I really think changed my life.”

“If I ever met an individual who was able to channel God through nature, it was Charlie Cochrane. The beautiful thing about it was he didn’t let it stop there. It was not a two-way communication. He used that to reach out to all of us and to share that love, to share the spiritual healing and to share with all of us what nature did for him. But more importantly, what nature did through him.”

-Fredda McDonald, Big Trees board member

“Charlie looked at this as getting to go out and play every day. He actually came early because he wanted to beat the traffic, get his paperwork done and do the details so he could get into the forest and play all day. After a while, I realized all he wanted to do was play all day in his forest. Charlie is going to be impossible to replace.”

“If there was a God of nature, it was John Ripley Forbes and if there was a Jesus to God, it was Charlie Cochrane because he was certainly a great disciple and he carried out John’s wishes. Now I’ve got two bosses in high place…John and Charlie. Now I’m being watched carefully in every hour and every day that I don’t let these two guys down. Charlie’s spirit is here.”

-Charlie Roberts, local developer and Big Trees board president

“If you’ve ever taken a trip down the forest on the trails with Charlie Cochrane, you’re very impressed. When you get back up to the entrance, you wonder how in the world they ever found this man. We didn’t find Charlie. He found us.”

“The friendship between [Cochrane and Forbes] was immediate. The bond was strong. It must have been made by the environmental heavens or something because they began to understand each other immediately. “

“He found a place he wanted to work in and be in for the rest of his life. His involvement as a steward of this beautiful forest gave Charlie new meaning to his life. I think the most lasting trails he built were found in the hearts and minds of our young people. The young people who worked so diligently were always reminded of their responsibility to future generations to act as stewards to this priceless preserve for those who come after them. May they all follow in his environmental footsteps.”

-Margaret Forbes, widow of John Ripley Forbes

“I had the opportunity of seeing Charlie’s 15-year dedication to the vision of John Ripley Forbes, who created Big Trees, first as a board member, then as president of the board and now as a dear, dear friend who counsels me and encourages me as I work in this community trying to ensure that Big Tree and its legacy lives on.”

“[Big Trees] is designed so when you’re walking in the park, that you have no idea that it’s surrounded by car dealerships and apartment complexes. That’s by design. It took Charlie four months to figure that out. That was the forte of Charlie Cochrane. He understood the mission of Big Trees. Each and every day, his actions guided good forest ethics.”

“This incredible park that we have today is a gift of Charlie’s spirit and love of nature. He did it, however, recognizing the public’s role in helping to preserve it. Each volunteer left with the knowledge that each person can contribute their part to ensure that this park is preserved for future generations.”

-Karen Meinzen McEnerny, District 6 councilwoman

“Charlie was the keeper of our little slice of heaven here in Sandy Springs…Big Trees. We have lost a real treasure.”

-Dianne Fries, District 2 councilwoman

“When I heard that Charlie had passed just a couple days after I had last talked to him by phone, I thought of all the places in the world where people believe that human beings are essentially vessels by which God sees and experiences the creation. It thought how much fun God must have had to experience the creation through Charlie Cochrane.”

“I’ve only known Charlie for a short time, but I was always overwhelmed at his enthusiasm. Charlie was much more than merely interested. I was overwhelmed by his enthusiasm and found it often hard to keep up with his level of excitement. Charlie has certainly left behind an incredible gift.”

“It was an honor to know Charlie. I will miss him. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. If there is such a thing in the celestial realm as a celestial woodland, I think it’s probably right know being intended with incomparable skill and enthusiasm.”

-Gary Ferguson, nature writer

“To say that Charlie was out here all the time is an understatement. He had this down to a science. I’m very honored to have known this man and worked with this man. I’m more honored to be part of his legacy.

-David Kemp, Eagle Scout

“He is certainly going to be sorely missed. I want to thank him for, in this difficult day and age, raising young people. The values, the honesty and many of the characteristics that Charlie taught our young people have spawned them to do other things wherever they are. It was through, in part, many of these projects at Big Trees that he taught them attention to detail, quality of materials, intestinal fortitude, and the value of this memorial that remains in his wake. That’s a very difficult thing to do in this day and age…to instruct without absolute discipline. As a testament to his approach to teaching people, many of them look back on that relationship as something that is sustaining and that to me, and many other Eagle Scout families, is his legacy.”

-Richard Newhouse, Eagle Scout parent

“Charlie Cochrane turned an impenetrable wilderness full of vines, swamp and nettles into an inviting forest. He opened the woods for the community with the construction of a masterful set of intersecting trails. During the cool months, I walked the back loop trail several times a week and often encountered Charlie performing his labor of love. I will miss him.”

-Mayor Eva Galambos*

“My impression is that Charlie was Big Trees. He truly loved his job.”

-Brad Chambers, director of Sandy Springs Department of Recreation and Parks*

“[Charlie] was a very good person and the best trail maker I ever met. There’s an art to trail making. Charlie was Big Trees. The two were synonymous.”

-Joey Mayson, chairman of the Sandy Springs Conservancy and founding member of Heritage Sandy Springs*

*Some comments were emailed to the Reporter by those who could not attend the memorial.