Cooley was born Nov. 25, 1923, in Dallas, Texas. He attended Yale in the early 1940s, started at 16-years old, and became a varsity competitor in football, squash, and tennis. After two years at Yale, he joined the Army as a P-38 pilot during World War II. He lost his right arm in a plane crash over France when the dive flaps failed while he was testing a newly-delivered aircraft. Cooley returned from the war for surgery and healing, and he finished his time at Yale. And though he lost his arm, His wife Bridget Cooley said he still was a national squash champion — left-handed — in the mid-1950s. Cooley joined San Francisco-based Wells Fargo in 1949 and worked his way up the ranks. He became president and chief executive in 1966, and then chairman and chief executive officer in 1978. He retired from Wells Fargo after 33 years in 1982. Almost immediately he was elected president, chairman, and chief executive of Seafirst Bank in Seattle, positions he held until his retirement in 1990. He continued as chair of its executive committee until 1994. An emeritus trustee of Caltech, Cooley was a director in many major corporations, including United Airlines, Pacific Gas and Electric, Paccar and Egghead Software. Cooley was a RAND trustee from 1971-1981 and 1982-1992.