Zach Davis Cox, Sr.
Zach Davis Cox, Sr. died on August 30, 2001 after a long and blessed life that lasted eighty two years. Mr. Cox was born in Calypso, NC on July 10, 1919, the second child of Robert Leighton Cox, Sr. and Winnie Eugenia McWhorter Cox, the grandson of John Needham Cox and Mary Perline Inman Cox and Zach Davis McWhorter and Anna Lee Nelson McWhorter. His family moved to Mt. Olive when he was ten years old, where he remained until he graduated from Mt. Olive High School in 1936, being honored that year as the outstanding student athlete of his class. After high school, he attended Duke University, but left college on the eve of World War II to join the United States Marine Corps.
Shortly after the start of World War II, Mr. Cox married Mary Gwin Oliver, also a native of Mt. Olive, a few weeks before he was sent to the South Pacific. During World War II, he served on the Samoa Islands (Upolu), the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal), the Marshall Islands (Kwajalein), the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan and Guam). On Guadalcanal, he was a company commander with the famed First Battalion, Seventh Regiment of the First Marine Division, then under the command of Lewis B. Puller. While recovering from wounds he received on Guadalcanal, Major Cox served as chief of security for the Norfolk Navy Yard. At the end of World War II, he was training for an assault on a fortified coastal cliff on the southernmost home island of Japan, Kyushu. After World War II, he spent a year in China with the First Marine Division to oversee the evacuation of the Japanese Army.
As part of the military demobilization after World War II, Mr. Cox received a medical retirement from the Marines as a Lt. Colonel, after being classified as 100% disabled by his war wounds and the tropical diseases he had contracted, yellow fever and the usually fatal black water fever. Despite his disability and forsaking a desire to resume his college education, Mr. Cox returned to Mt. Olive where he joined his uncle in the wholesale grocery business, Cox Brothers, in order to provide for his growing family that would in time reach seven children, four girls and three boys. He eventually purchased the business from his uncle and ran it until his retirement in the mid-1980's despite suffering from severe heart problems in 1967 and undergoing a quadruple coronary by-pass operation in 1977.
But Mr. Cox never let business concerns or health problems interfere with his devotion to his children. When his children were in school, he was active in the PTA. When his children were in the band, he was president of the band patrons club. When his children were young, he was a Sunday School teacher. When his daughters were in the Girl Scouts, he was instrumental in establishing a local Girl Scout camp, Camp Trailee. When his sons were in the Boy Scouts, he supported Troop 34 (of which he had been a charter member) with his time, money, materials, and energy. In short, he always involved himself in whatever his children were doing.
But Mr. Cox also recognized that creating a better world for his children involved more than just his and their personal concerns. As such, he was very active in support of political candidates who shared his progressive outlook toward life, including being the county manager or co-manager for the campaigns of Terry Sanford, John F. Kennedy, and George McGovern. As was typical of many of his generation, “The Greatest Generation”, Mr. Cox’s political leanings were characterized by social liberalism tempered with fiscal conservatism.
Mr. Cox’s concern for the community manifested itself in many ways. He was the Past Master of the local Masonic Lodge, being the fifth generation of his family to be a Mason. He was active in many business activities beyond being the owner of his own business, including being a long time member of the Boards of Directors for the Mt. Olive Pickle Company and the North Carolina Wholesalers Association.
Because of the emergency of World War II and the necessity of raising a family combined to deny Mr. Cox a fair chance at completing his college education, it was a special source of pride with him that all seven of his children graduated from college. Bolstered by the knowledge that he had given his children as good a start in life as was possible, Mr. Cox’s health began a long and slow decline after the death of his beloved wife, Mary Gwin, in 1982. It was only through the unceasing vigilance of his doctors and the tireless attention of his oldest daughter, Gwin Lee Cox, that Mr. Cox was able to enjoy a long and well deserved rest from his life’s labors. During the mid-1980's, Mr. Cox was married to Sara McGee Emerson, who had been a lifelong friend to both Mary Gwin Cox and Mr. Cox.
While increasing years and the continuing effects of his war injuries diminished his physical vitality, Mr. Cox never lost his joy for life or his pride in his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In particular, he never lost his exuberance for telling bad puns, long shaggy dog stories, and colorful family anecdotes. And to the utter astonishment of his children, Mr. Cox revealed a few years ago that he had been a lifelong poet with a large body of work, including poems celebrating the birth of each of his children.
Mr. Cox is survived by a brother, Robert Leighton Cox, Jr.; a sister, Eugenia McWhorter Cox Harris; four daughters, Gwin Lee Cox, Elizabeth Ann Cox Williams, Laviece Cox Ward McPeak, and Mary Wooten Cox Smith; three sons, Zach D. Cox, Jr., James Oliver Cox, and John Needham Cox; three granddaughters Vanessa Hoskins Ridgley, Virginia Taylor Cox, and Anna Wilkins Cox; five grandsons, Richard Johnson Ward, Baxter Craven Smith, IV, James Oliver Smith, Zachary Samuel Smith, and Robert Stephen Cox; two great-granddaughters, Melanie M. Ridgley and Rachel Michelle Ward, and two great-grandsons, Travis Benjamin Ridgley and Alan David Ridgley.
Donations in memory of Zach Davis Cox, Sr. to Mt. Olive College to either the Z. D. McWhorter Scholarship or the Winnie and R. L. Cox Endowment would be appreciated by the family.
John N. Cox