Mr Cooke was elected in June 2009 as the Conservative Member for Maidstone South East and has served as Vice-Chairman since December 2021.
His political career began early on the British Youth Council and he was first elected as a local councillor in 1979, serving on Sevenoaks District Council until 1987.
He is a retired insurance executive with a specialty in aviation and satellite underwriting and worked in the London and Lloyds markets from 1968 to 1995.
A father of three, Mr Cooke relocated with his family to Bermuda in 1995 and was part of an international business team which helped grow a small insurance company employing 40 people into a global insurer with offices in more than 50 different countries. Mr Cooke returned to the UK in 2003.
During his time at Kent County Council Mr Cooke has served on a number of committees. He was also Cabinet Member for Corporate and Democratic services from 2013 to 2017 and an active member of Kent’s adoption panels for many years. He still maintains an active interest in Kent’s adoption and fostering services, as well as Kent’s other youth services and serves as Chairman of Maidstone’s Local Children’s Partnership Group.
Mr Cooke serves as a trustee of Fusion in Maidstone where the youth club he instigated continues to thrive. He is also a trustee of the Vinters Valley Nature Reserve.
Mr Cooke is a keen sportsman enjoying most sports though these days he admits it is more as a spectator than a participant. He is a former Class 1 football referee and was honoured to be invited by FIFA to officiate an international U21 tournament while in Bermuda.
Mr Cooke’s two chosen charities for the year reflect his commitment to supporting young carers across the county, children and young people who provide unpaid care for a family member or friend with an illness, disability, mental health condition or addiction.
Imago’s Kent Young Carers service supports and promotes positive mental health and emotional wellbeing for carers aged five-18. It works with professionals to identify hidden young carers through raising awareness and training.
Angela Holland, Director of Children and Young People’s Services at Imago Community, said: “We would like to thank the Chairman for choosing us as one of his nominated charities. This is an amazing and unique opportunity as we blaze ahead to fulfil our goal of supporting Young Carers in Kent to achieve their best. The Chairman’s support will further raise the profile of Young Carers and help us to create positive change over the forthcoming year.”
Crossroads Care Kent has a dedicated team of staff and volunteers to support young carers aged between five and 16. They offer a listening ear to help through the difficult times and provide a range of activities, weekly club nights, outings and short holidays to ensure they can enjoy their childhood too.
Irene Jeffrey, Chief Executive of Crossroads Care Kent said: “Crossroads Young Carers’ Project is very proud to be a chosen charity of Cllr Gary Cooke in his year as Chairman of Kent County Council. Being a Young Carer can have a massive impact on a child’s life, so we are thrilled to have this opportunity to support even more young carers to access fun activities.”
“At the end of the year, I want to be able to say we have done something to make their lives better.”
Mr Cooke said: “Being Chairman is obviously a great honour but it’s also an opportunity to focus on something that you as an individual Member feel very strongly about and through the choice of your charities and it’s young people for me, and young carers.
“There is something in the region of 8-8,500 young carers known to us in Kent, but the feeling is that the figure could be much closer to 50,000. I want to highlight the work these children do, I want to help and I want to increase awareness. At the end of the year, I want to be able to say we have done something to make their lives better.”
The Vice-Chairman this coming year will be Cllr Bryan Sweetland, who represents the Gravesham Rural District.
Now retired, Mr Sweetland was a senior manager in the telecommunications industry, working in UK, Europe, USA and Bermuda.
He has served as a non-executive director of a number of public organisations including NHS West Kent Primary Care Trust, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and various KCC Commercial Services companies.
He was a Councillor at Gravesham Borough Council from 2007 to 2015 and served as Cabinet Member for Business and the Town Centre.
In May 2009, he was elected to Kent County Council, initially serving as Deputy Cabinet Member, Business Services before holding various Cabinet positions including Highways, Environment and Waste, Commercial and Traded Services, People, Partnerships and Communication. He has represented KCC on the Rochester Bridge Trust and the Kent Fire and Rescue Authority.
Mr Sweetland is a Past President of Gravesend and Meopham Rotary Club and during the Covid pandemic worked as an NHS volunteer at the Gravesend mass vaccination centre.
The new Chairman paid tribute to outgoing Chair Lesley Game. He said: "Following the sad and untimely death of Ann Allen during her year as Chair, Lesley took on the role and responsibility in a way in which she can be rightly proud. Her chairmanship firstly honoured the memory of Ann and then raised awareness of issues surrounding domestic abuse by her choice of the charity, Oasis. She also worked closely with the Kent Association for the Blind.
"Having worked alongside Lesley in the past year, I know from personal experience how kind-hearted and caring she is and on behalf of KCC I thank her for her service and wish her well for the future.”
For more on the role of the Chairman at KCC, visit https://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council/how-the-council-works/the-chairman