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Art gallery for veteran fighting brain cancer opens

When he was diagnosed with a GBM brain tumor, he told his wife he was going to finally pursue his passion.

DULUTH, Ga. — There isn’t a day in our lives that is a guarantee. That fact is the filter Columbus Cook and his family see every moment through. That is especially true on a day they didn’t know would come.

“This is just awesome.” He said. “Wow.”

Columbus was overwhelmed as he walked into the Hudgens Center for Art in Duluth to see his work displayed on the wall. The exhibit is titled: “Awakening, The Evolution of an Artist.” 

He and his wife, Val, smiled broadly. Val also wiped away a tear. 

“This means everything,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Their young daughter gave a thumbs up and looked up proudly at her father.

The grand opening of his public art exhibit grand opening comes 26 days after Columbus Cook first shared any of his art publicly.

He explained the reasons to people who came to the exhibit. 

“I hid it because I was ashamed,” he said. 

When he was 4-years-old someone told his family that his extraordinary gift of talent made him different. They implied that he had a developmental disability. So, Columbus grew up feeling like he had to hide his gift. He was a successful business man, served in Desert Storm, and is a loving dad to seven children. But, something was always missing.

RELATED: Veteran fighting brain cancer finally gets chance to share artwork with the world

When he was diagnosed with a GBM brain tumor, he told his wife he was going to finally pursue his passion. 

“He was absolutely determined to do his art if he made it through his brain surgery,” Columbus said. “I always assumed I would do art later in my life.” 

He thought he’d do his art after he retired. His diagnosis changed the way he looked at the future. Columbus is 54. 

“We realized we could no longer defer our dreams,” Val said.

Columbus and Val invited us into their home in October. He hung his art on the walls of his basement. Some friends helped finish the basement and build him an art studio where he loves to work on his pieces. Our Brave Conquers Fear story was the first time he shared his work and his story with the public.

Kristen Nelson, a board member for the Hudgens Center for Art saw that story recently on 11Alive News at 6 p.m.

Nelson was one of the hundreds of people who was at the grand opening. Columbus hugged her. 

“I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “I am so thankful.”

Ife Williams, the Executive Director of the Center organized the exhibit. 

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Not only does Columbus have an amazing story, he has amazing art work.”

Having an art exhibit was a bucket list wish. His dream was happening all around him. 

“It is amazing,” he said. “It really is happening.” 

His family didn’t know if there would ever be a show, or if Columbus would be around to experience it.

“Medically, this is my last month to live.” he said. “Doctors gave me 18 months, and this is my 18th month.” 

Columbus doesn’t look at it that way. 

“I take life one day at a time.”

RELATED: He hid his art talent for 50 years. Now he's sharing it with the world as he fights brain cancer.

He says his faith determines the number of his days, not his diagnosis. He says he is at peace with whatever time he has left. Columbus says he will spend his time with the people he loves; doing what he loves most. Art.

His fine art is the one part of his life he spent 50 years hiding. It is the very thing that brought people from all parts of his life together at the grand opening. His family, friends he grew up with, former co-workers, and care givers from Emory. There were also strangers. They watched his story and wanted to meet Columbus and see his art.

“Just seeing the love from people he’s known and from people he has never met, means a lot,” Val said.

Having an art exhibit was a bucket list wish. His dream was happening all around him. “It is amazing,” he said. “It really is happening.”

Even his children had never seen most of the work now on display; including his adult son, Daven. “It means a lot,” he said. “It means his art is reaching out to a lot of people and his story is, too.”

“He is living in a whole new way,” Val said. 

She watched him greet visitors and share his story with each of them at the gallery. 

“He is glowing,” Val said. “He is so alive.”

“He’s teaching us not to wait.” Daven Cook said. “Don’t hide what it is that you truly love to do.”

It is Columbus Cook’s legacy: A greater appreciation for beauty and time.

Credit: WXIA

His exhibit is at the Hudgens Center for Art located at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. 

Columbus will host another meet the artist there on Dec. 7 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The show runs through Feb. 1, 2020. 

Columbus is busy painting new pieces. He hopes to have 55 finished pieces by his 55th birthday in February.

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