Gretchen Cook was something of a child prodigy, spending her days reading instead of going to the beach near her home in Pensacola, Fla.
"My mother once tried to punish me by telling me I couldn't read anything. Then she found me in the pantry, reading the boxes," she says, laughing. After just three years, Cook graduated from Florida State University at age 18 and went on to earn a master's degree in library science. "My parents thought, 'Wow, we have a doctor, we have a lawyerҗbut no, I became a librarian!" she says.
Now, she can't seem to escape the books. The ex-librarian, 42, is now editor/publisher of Parents & Kids Magazine. Sitting at her desk amid stacks of books and magazines up to her knees, she spends her days distributing advice to parents and children in the Jackson metro and on the Gulf Coast.
"Parenting is a paradigm shifter, flat-out. It changes everything," she says. "We like to remind parents that the most important thing they can give their child is themselves."
Cook knew she wanted to make Jackson her home after visiting in the mid-'80s, and in 1989, she did just that. An opening at the Belhaven College library led her to the Magnolia State. "It was just a paradise to work in," she says of her time at Belhaven. "One person can make a difference at a small place, and I was the kind of person who wanted to roll up my sleeves and do something."
After 16 years as library director, Cook traded in the Dewey Decimal System for the full-time job of editing and publishing. Inexplicably drawn to parenting magazines since college, she has found her niche.
Cook describes herself as a BRAVO! Restaurant junkie and teems with enthusiasm about Jackson. "People really care about you hereit's the kind of place where people still bring you casseroles if you're sick," she says. She met her husband, Bill, at a local hot spot, Keifer's.
"It was a blind date on Friday the 13th, and it really didn't go all that well," Cook says. But in 1994, the couple tied the knot anyway.
Cook embraces the communityshe and her husband regularly volunteer in places like Stewpotbut if she could change one thing about Jackson, it would be to expand its boundaries.
"If everyone in the tri-county area could just take a deep breath and say, 'We are Jackson,' I think we'd be stronger," she says.
Clearly in love with the city, Cook gazes out the window of her Fondren office building and says, "I'm a Jacksonian and very proud of it. This is my home now.