Ellon Cockrill’s resume is the “War and Peace” of career summaries.
It depicts a solid life’s work, as such documents do. But what gives the resume its heft is Cockrill’s list of philanthropic efforts, which unspool on the page like a “Star Wars” prologue.
From Rotary to Easterseals to Junior League, from the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas to the Centers for Youth and Families to the Wolfe Street Foundation, Cockrill has lent her volunteer spirit to good causes, putting people with a need in touch with people who can help.
“I love connecting people,“ Cockrill says. And she knows a lot of people.
On top of her career as a dietician and her numerous roles as a volunteer, the perpetually in motion Cockrill has recently taken up golf. And guitar. And piano. And dance lessons. And half marathons.
It would seem there is no challenge Cockrill won’t accept, no goal she won’t set for herself and no skill she won’t learn.
Except, that is, the ability to utter one little word.
“I’m the girl who can’t say no,” Cockrill says, echoing the complaint, if not the intent, of Ado Annie Carnes’ number in “Oklahoma.”
Cockrill may see it as a shortcoming, but her inability to refuse a request has been to Little Rock’s benefit, so much so that the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas — an organization Cockrill helped found, naturally — is honoring her as the 2018 Woman in Philanthropy at its Power of the Purse event Sept. 14.
“A lot of the women I admired and respected … were involved with the Women’s Foundation,” Cockrill says.
"All I Did"
The den of Cockrill’s well-appointed, remodeled, 1930s-era home sits at the end of Spruce Street, which practically runs into the Country Club of Little Rock. The room is the sanctum of her husband Roger, a Little Rock lawyer, whose love of hunting is apparent in the number of stuffed animals on the walls and shelves.
“Do you want to sit in the dead animal room?” Cockrill says with a twinkle, greeting her guest.
She is disproportionally apologetic for running a whole five minutes late. Given her schedule of causes and activities, it’s hard to believe time doesn’t work against her more often.
Trimmed in a white blouse and pert haircut, Cockrill summarizes her life in philanthropy.
“All I did was accept the responsibility for doing something and doing it to the best of my ability,” she says.
A native of Hampton, Cockrill earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in nutrition at the University of Arkansas, working her way through as the first in her family to attend college. She chose the field after showing an aptitude for math and science and cooking for her family from a young age.
Her volunteerism began modestly when, working around her job as a nutritionist, she helped out with an after hours function at the Arkansas Arts Center.
“Then all of a sudden it’s 40 years later and you’re like, ‘Wow, what happened?’" she says.
Whatever You Can
Cockrill’s numerous philanthropic roles have included board chair, board member and organization and event founder, among others.
She has accomplished major tasks like raising money for a Department of Psychiatry building at UAMS — for a fee of two purses and two pairs of shoes — and she ended up helping to raise $32 million for the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute.
POWER OF THE PURSE is set for Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. at the Statehouse Convention Center.
TICKETS + INFO: WomensFoundationArkansas.org
It was a major step for mental health treatment in the state, but Cockrill has been able to help people in more personal ways, too.
Through the Connections program, a joint effort between Rotary 99 and UAMS, Cockrill has served as a “Connector” who helps multiple myeloma patients and their families, many of them from other countries, who come to UAMS for treatment.
Giving rides to the airport or the grocery store — “I know more ethnic grocery stores in this town than I even knew existed!” — she provided the personal help people needed to get through the day while dealing with a major health challenge in a foreign land.
Once a chemotherapy patient needed his braces off and, naturally, Cockrill had an orthodontist friend and put the two in touch.
“I’ll ask you for anything for somebody else but won’t ask for anything for me,” she says.
It is the essence of Cockrill’s philosophy of philanthropy: You don’t have to be rich to help. If you have time or a certain skill, if you can cook, draw or just give someone a lift, you can commit to philanthropy.
“It’s about finding your talents, finding your cause and doing whatever you can,” she says.
Whether skiing with her grandkids, going to concerts or indulging in one of her many later-in-life hobbies and activities, Ellon Cockrill feels she is making up for missed opportunities.
“I am living the adolescence that I never got to live,” she says.
That would explain the bubblegum pink stretch limo, but more on that in a minute.
Cockrill, now in her 60s, grew up in Hampton, where concerts and other fun and games weren’t available. She cooked for her family and worked her way through college, and her childhood admittedly was sometimes painful.
“I grew up overweight and that is a real hurtful thing sometimes,” says Cockrill, saddled with the childhood nicknames “Watermelon” and “Elmer Fudd.”
Marrying fresh out of college, Cockrill plunged into her career as a nutritionist and her numerous philanthropic efforts.
“My family bought me a T-shirt once that said ‘Stop me before I volunteer again,’" Cockrill says.
Only in recent years has Cockrill allowed personal amusements and the pursuit of fun to nudge aside a chance or two to volunteer. Working or playing, she sees a need to keep busy.
“I think for the sanity of my family and me I decided I better be out there.”
That includes finding published authors to speak at her book club or renting the aforementioned limo for herself and 12 younger friends to take in a Bruno Mars concert.
“I’m just a kid,” Cockrill says.
Golf, running, music and dance lessons also help fill Cockrill’s schedule. Yet her pursuit of a good time is also something she has sought in her volunteer work, which for her requires three elements: friendship, fun and funds.
“If those three components don’t exist I say ‘Why are you doing it?’” she says.