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Rev. Dr. James D. Cochran

Isaiah 26: 3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (KJV)

James Daniel Cochran, age 91, of Ypsilanti Michigan, died on November 18, 2021. He died peacefully in Denver, CO surrounded by family after suffering a stroke.

James was born in Muskegon, Michigan on October 12, 1930, to James Charles and Minnie Florence (Dupree) Cochran of Muskegon Heights, Michigan.  He attended Muskegon Heights Public Schools where he was a member of the Jazz, Marching, and Concert bands which was the beginning of his lifelong passion for music.

After graduating from Muskegon Heights High School in 1949, James enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  He was trained as a hospital corpsman, eventually becoming a lab technician with his own laboratory. During his enlistment James was stationed at Naval Hospital Philadelphia and aboard the aircraft carriers the USS Midway (CV-41) and the USS Coral Sea (CV-43). His Northern European and Mediterranean Cruises during these assignments fostered his love of travel which he instilled in his family later in life. Although his enlistment was extended due to the Korean Conflict, James served with distinction and received an honorable discharge on July 4, 1954, in Little Creek, VA.

James met the love of his life, the former Theresa Murphy on New Year’s Eve, 1954 while a student at the University of Michigan.  They were united in holy matrimony at Bethel AME church of Ann Arbor, MI on Saturday, August 25, 1956, and recently celebrated 65 wonderful years of marriage.  This union was blessed with 3 daughters Theresa (Marie), Donna and Janet.

After their marriage, James answered the call to the ministry and moved with his bride to Xenia, Ohio where he attended Wilberforce University earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. He graduated with honors in 1960.

James was the first African American student, and graduate, of the inaugural class of the Methodist Theological School of Ohio “METHESCO” (MTSO), located in Delaware, OH.  In 1963 he received his Master of Divinity. He is shown in a photograph on the school’s webpage, reflecting the significance of his position in the school’s history.

An ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, his formal Ministry began in 1963 in the Lexington Conference of the Methodist Church, at Scott Methodist Church in Maysville, Kentucky. Later that same year, James received an appointment in the West Michigan Conference to serve as Associate Pastor at St. Paul Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Upon arrival in Grand Rapids, he received a written welcome from the area Congressional Representative and future President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.  While in Grand Rapids, he was commissioned to start an urban ministry, which became the Church of the Redeemer. In 1968, he transferred to the Detroit Conference, and was appointed as an Assistant Pastor at the historic Central United Methodist Church, Detroit, Michigan where many referenced his similarities with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  James was selected to serve as the first African American, District Superintendent of the Detroit West District, of the United Methodist Church. During that time, he earned his second master’s degree in psychology from Michigan State University, in East Lansing, MI.

In 1976, James and Theresa moved their family to Lansing, MI as he took a sabbatical from the UMC to complete his doctoral studies at Michigan State University.  Lansing would serve as the family home base until his retirement.  While in Lansing, he served as the Assistant Pastor of Potter Park UMC.  James received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in psychology in 1981.

After his sabbatical, he returned to the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, as a member of the Program staff, assisting churches across Western Michigan in developing their programs, an area he focused on in his doctoral dissertation.  From there he moved to the historic Court Street UMC in Flint, Michigan where he served as the Associate Pastor. In 1988, he was again appointed to the Detroit Conference, serving as the Senior Pastor at the prominent Conant Ave UMC.  In 1992, James accepted his last appointment as the Pastor of the historic Dixboro UMC, Ann Arbor, MI where he served until his retirement in 1998.

James was an accomplished musician with a phenomenal knowledge of Jazz.  One of the highlights of his life was meeting Count Basie, whose music he thoroughly enjoyed.  A proud member of the American Federation of Musicians, he performed most recently with the Washtenaw Community Concert Band in the Saxophone Section. He played with the Lansing Concert Band for years as well.  James was also a member of the Jazz Band, the Ambassadors; and founded a Saxophone Quartet, the Four Tones.

James enjoyed spending time outdoors. He volunteered to serve as Camp Dean on occasion at Methodist camps across Michigan, taking the family along as an opportunity and adventure for them.  Later he bought a travel trailer, “Sitting Pretty” for the family, taking multiple trips to various camp sites across Michigan and Ontario. He always found peace sitting by the water.

A true community activist, James participated in social protests, living his faith. An active member of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal he saw himself as an instrument for change. James was also a strong supporter of women in the ministry.

A humble man, James did not often speak about his numerous community activities and connections.  He served on the boards of community organizations such as Friends in Deed, and was an active participant in ‘Young at Arts’ and ElderQuest at Eastern Michigan University.

Those left to continue the celebration of his life are his loving and dedicated wife Theresa, who was holding his hand when he took the hand of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His children Theresa ”Marie” (Sylvester)Thabit, of Denver, Colorado who opened their home and provided love and care over the last years of his life, Donna (Conrad) Harrow, of McDonough, GA who provided various levels of support to ensure his comfort, including facilitating what became his last trip to Michigan, and Janet Cochran, of Arlington, VA who also provided long distance support. James also leaves 5 grandchildren, Robert W. McFarlin, IV, of Annapolis, MD; Sylvester J. Thabit, of Denver, Theresa Lahine “Sister” Thabit, of Sacramento, CA, and Angelica (Henry) Thabit-Allanemeh, of Denver/Abuja, Nigeria; and Brittanie Harrow, of Ocean Springs, MS. He also leaves behind 2 first cousins Mary (Wiley) Edwards, of Ypsilanti, and Phillip Cochran, of Inkster. Also experiencing the loss are a sister-in–law, Neila Murphy, and a host of nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Proceeding James in death were his parents; James and Minnie Cochran; 2 baby brothers who died in infancy, his father-in-law and mother-in-law, Robert and Ruth Murphy; 4 brothers-in-law, Charles (Sonny) Posey, Robert Murphy, Jr, Frank Murphy and John Martin; and 4 sisters-in-law, Christine Murphy, Elsie Belle Martin, Henrietta Shoats Watt, and Lilian Posey. He was also predeceased by 2 stepsisters, and 2 nieces.

James never met a stranger. His warm and open personality led to the informal adoption by individuals across the country and around the world.

He was laid to rest in a private ceremony at the Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly, MI. A virtual memorial service will be held for family members and friends on December 18, 2021. Funeral arrangements were made by Cranes Funeral Home, Romulus, Michigan.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory can be given to METHESCO Scholarship Fund https://www.mtso.edu/alumni-friends/giving-to-mtso/ ; RoadScholar (formerly Elderhostel) https://www.roadscholar.org/about/giving/gifts-in-honormemory/ ; or Rehabilitative Rhythms, music therapy practice of Colorado https://possiblewithmusic.org/ 

Condolences may be sent to Mrs. Theresa Cochran ℅ Thabit, 4606 Joplin Way, Aurora, CO 80015. On behalf of the family of James Cochran, we would like to thank you for all of the cards, prayers, and support.

Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. (KJV)

Last Updated on October 31, 2023

The Michigan Conference