Sue Ellen Cooper: Seeing Red

Sue Ellen Cooper '68 Leads The Red Hat Society
story by Cathi Douglas / image by Jeanine Hill

Cooper's favorite color is red, she wears purple and red every day, and she sports bright red nail polish. As the queen mother and exalted ruler of the Red Hat Society and leader to more than 1 million members internationally, she leads such chapters as the Red Hat Mental Pausers in Georgia and the Old Spice Girls of North Carolina.

Cooper, a Fullerton resident, started the society quite by accident several years ago when she sent the poem, "Warning," about a woman who will do whatever she wants as she grows old, and a red hat to a friend who was turning 55. It was such a hit that she did it again. Soon Cooper suggested that she and her friends get crazy and go out to lunch wearing red hats and purple dresses, and the organization was born.

Newspapers and magazines wrote about her, and today there are more than 41,000 chapters, each of which pays a $35 annual fee.

The Red Hat Society's only rules are that it has no rules. The only purpose is for women 50 and above to have fun.

"I always felt age was just a number. I enjoy people of all ages–we're all just people," Cooper says. The oldest members of the Red Hat Society are three 107-year-olds. The youngest are newborns–Cooper says she gets baby pictures all the time from proud grandmas.

Amazed at the impact the Red Hat Society has had on society at large, Cooper is gratified that its lighthearted humor is appreciated. "We need humorous goodwill in a tense society," she says.

Today, the former commercial artist supervises 60 employees from headquarters on Acacia Street and operates a store, Imperium, downtown, selling all kinds of Red Hat merchandise. There are regional and national conventions, she is a New York Times best-selling author with three books under her belt and another due out this spring. And she was honored as a Cal State Fullerton Vision & Visionary in 2004.

Two universities are conducting research about aging that involve the Red Hat Society and/or its members, and the organization is the subject of two documentaries. end of text