A requiem for Bob Cox, “a brilliant scientist,” “world citizen” & my pal


COOPER, Iowa, Nov. 30, 2016 – Bob Cox, my high school classmate, lifelong friend and something of a hero to me, has died.  He was one of the best and brightest that our hometown of Shenandoah, Iowa, ever produced.

Let me tell you about Robert Earl Cox.

There was a special bond between us.  I trace it back to the time that George Haws – a teacher and a coach who was more like a father to the two of us – threw us both out of world history class when we were 8th graders. Our transgression? We had used hydrogen peroxide to put blond streaks into our dark hair. He sent us home with orders not to return until we had used dark shoe polish to cover the blond streaks. We were furious as we walked to Bob’s house, plotting the revolution we would lead. But 30 minutes later, we were back in class, red-faced and darker-haired.

Bob Cox mugshot Nov 11 or 12 2016.JPG
In high school, Cox was a brilliant student, class president and a remarkable three-sport athlete, the quarterback of our outstanding football team.  “He was always our leader,” said Bruce Ketcham, another classmate and another excellent athlete, reflecting after Cox’s death.

That came late on Nov.19 in Reno, Nevada, after a long illness, most likely caused by excessive exposure to dangerous chemicals and radiation during his career as an exploration geologist, an environmental remediator and always an entrepreneur. He was 69 years old.

“I wrote him a note a few weeks ago, and I don’t know if he even got it or could understand,” said Ketcham, a retired farmer still living near Shenandoah, which is in southwest Iowa. “I told him, ‘You were my quarterback back in high school, and you’ll always be my quarterback.’ ”

Lee Zentic will never forget when he first met Bob Cox, in the fall of 1964. Zentic, now 78 and retired in Lincoln, Neb., is a Hall of Fame coach whose football teams early-on at Tecumseh and later at Lincoln East won a total of six state championships in Nebraska. In ’64, he was 26 years old when he arrived in Shenandoah as our new head coach.

“I realized right away just how smart Bob was, after I was told that he’d been the quarterback for a couple of years,” said Zentic, who had played football and baseball for Nebraska University in the late 1950s. “I was the new coach, bringing in a whole new system, and it was a pretty complicated offense.  We played what was called a ‘lonely end/unbalanced line.’ It seemed like Bob learned it overnight.”

BUT ONCE HE WENT WOBBLY. The Bob Cox quarterbacking story that will live forever among Shenandoah Mustangs of our vintage happened in the ’64 game against Atlantic.  Both teams were loaded with talent.  Both teams were undefeated when they met late in the season at Mustang Field in Shenandoah, where extra sets of bleachers were brought in to accommodate a huge crowd.  Atlantic was quarterbacked by Ed Podolak, who became a legend as a running back for the Iowa Hawkeyes and then the Kansas City Chiefs.

Late in the game, Podolak had led the Atlantic Trojans to a 20-14 lead over the Mustangs. Then Cox rallied his team to start a long, sustained drive.  Problem was, about midfield he got hit hard in the head, and for about the last three plays of the drive, he barely knew where he was.

“Bob probably had a concussion,” recalled Doug Poland, who was a tackle for Shenandoah and is now a retired vocational rehabilitation counselor living in Winterset. “He sure wasn’t thinking clearly.  He was having trouble calling the plays and didn’t seem to know what to do.  So I spoke up, as I usually do.  I said, ‘Listen, I’m beating the guy across from me, and (Gary) Connell (playing guard next to Poland) is beating his guy. So just run the ball and go behind us – follow us!’ ”

That strategy worked and in another couple of plays, the Mustangs scored to tie the game.  Problem was, Cox was still woozy – and he was the kicker for extra points.  He still lined up and kicked it, and it angled left. “I had the best view on the field – I was the holder – and I thought it was good,” said Ketcham. “I still think it was good.”  Coach Zentic was on the sidelines and thought it was good, too.  But the game official, under the goal post, thought it was just wide to the left.

The game ended in a tie, 20-20, as there was no “overtime” in high school football back then. Both teams won their next couple of games and finished the season with 8-0-1 records.

PROUD MOMENT FOR THE WHOLE COMMUNITY. In most small towns, very occasionally something happens that gives the whole community a big shot of pride.  That’s how it was in Shenandoah in the spring of 1965 when it was announced that Bob Cox had been accepted at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., one of the Ivy League schools.

It was kind of a community project getting him there, too.

His older brother Jim Cox, now 73, of Maryville, Mo., says that as Bob’s reputation grew as an athlete and exceptional student,  a Shenandoah businessman and sports booster Gage Parker took it upon himself to call the Dartmouth head football coach, Bob Blackman, who was building a juggernaut of a program, and tell him about Bob Cox in Iowa.

Parker, now 91 and living in Lincoln, Neb., said he can’t remember now if he made that phone call, “but it sounds like something I would’ve done.”  (A couple years later, Parker made a similar call to Northwestern University, telling their coaches that they should recruit Van Brownson, who had succeeded Cox as Shenandoah High quarterback and who was being heavily wooed by Nebraska U., where Brownson wound up playing.)

The next thing we all knew, Cox was receiving calls and letters from Dartmouth, and – in the way Ivy League schools still operate – he was assigned to go be interviewed in Omaha by an influential Dartmouth alumnus who was a corporate executive there.  He impressed the interviewer and was approved for admission.

And Jim Cox, then 22, realizing that Dartmouth tuition and detailed applications for financial aid were beyond their parents, Ovid and Jessie Cox, took charge of all the paperwork.

Bob Cox had a fine first year at Dartmouth and held his own in fast company on the freshman football team – but then had to leave his dream school.  “Our parents had very modest income, and the couple of years before Bob enrolled at Dartmouth, their salaries were low enough that Bob qualified for a lot of financial aid,” Jim Cox said. “Then during his freshman year, Dad’s aviation spraying business had a big year.  Maybe that was a year we had grasshoppers threatening the crops, and our folks made enough money that Bob lost part of his aid, and then he couldn’t afford to go there.”  So he enrolled at Iowa State University in Ames for one year.  Then he secured several student loans and, with his parents’ continuing help, he was able to return to Dartmouth for his junior and senior years.

He graduated “with distinction” in earth science in 1969, and his experience included studying with a team of honors students in Guatemala.

HAPPINESS AND HEARTBREAK. That same year, he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann O’Hara, another of our Shenandoah High School classmates, who was as much of a trailblazer as Bob was.  She began her college work at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., then went on to Drake University in Des Moines where she was the first woman to major in business.

I was their best man.  I believed then, and for a long time later, that we might eventually see them in a governor’s mansion or the White House.

Alas, they divorced in 1985.  Not only were their own hearts broken, so were the hearts of nearly all of us in our Class of ’65. But life goes on, as so many of us have learned.

Bob Cox and Mary Ann O’Hara separately raised their three fine sons – Brandon, now 45, of Campbell, Calif.; Bennett, 40, of Denver, and Barrett, 35, of Oakland, Calif.  The three have been absolute champs in their care and concern for their dad in recent years.

Bob Cox with son Barrett Cox Nov 11 or 12 2016.JPG

Bob Cox and son Barrett Cox in Reno, Nevada, about a week before Bob died.

Mary Ann had a good career, initially in management of women’s apparel stores, then holding administrative assistant positions in an engineering company and later an international mining company.  She’s still involved in the management of two farms in Iowa.  She married musician Gary Laura, a drummer who at times played with the Dave Brubeck and Doc Severinsen bands, also worked with the Colorado Department of Health and in higher education.  Retired now, Mary Ann and Gary split time between homes in Denver and New Orleans.

All in the family appreciate how brilliant Bob Cox was, how passionate he could be about causes and projects, and how insufferable he could occasionally be about minute details.

The sons put it this way in his obituary, “He will be best remembered for his supernatural attention to detail…”  Mary Ann and I both laughed when she described her former husband as being “so smart, he really was.  But details?  He’d drive you crazy with details.”  When I told her, yes, I’d noticed that, too, she answered, “Well, you ought to try to live with that!”

Bob Cox never married again.   He had nice relationships with women, but honestly, work and travel usually got in the way.  In his later years, he regretted that.

But his career did bring a whole lot of thrills.

SUCCESS IN SOLDIERING, SCIENCE AND BUSINESS.  After Dartmouth, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, and he was in jet pilot training until the Air Force declared a surplus of pilots as the war was winding down. They sent him on to Texas A&M University, where he earned a master’s degree in meteorology.  In the early 1970s, he became a first lieutenant advising generals and other high-ranking officers on weather conditions and air turbulence factors for U2 spy plane flights, which were conducting surveillance over Cuba and perhaps other enemy nations. That much we know.

His U2 experience has always especially intrigued brother Jim Cox, who followed their father as an aerial sprayer of chemicals for farm crops.

“Being a pilot myself, I’ve always been real interested in that part of Bob’s life,” Jim Cox said. “So in later years, I’d ask him about it. He’d say, ‘Jim, you know I had a ‘Top Secret’ security clearance for that work, and I can’t tell you.’  I’d say, ‘Oh, Bob, that was 35 or 40 years ago. There’s nothing secret about that now. I really just want to know more about the planes. You can tell me.’  He’d looked right back at me, shake his head ‘no’ and say, ‘I’m not telling you anything about it – I can’t.’ ”

Good soldier.

Good scientist and engineer, too, as you’ll realize here.

During our careers, Cox and I were both busy and out of touch for long periods of time.  I was only vaguely aware that, early on, he was involved in major projects that were petroleum-related, and that later he moved into an emerging new field – environmental remediation.  In quick visits at high school reunions or other chance meetings back in Shenandoah, I learned enough to know he was frequently traveling to major cities around the world, as well as to some very remote outposts.

But until four years ago, when his illness started slowing him down and when I became alarmed and more involved with him, I had embarrassing little understanding of what my great friend had done in life, what he’d become, and how much people respected him.

For five years after the Air Force, he worked as an engineer with Bechtel Power Corporation, a Houston-based company then building large infrastructure facilities around the world.

From 1978 to ’82, he was chief environmental officer as the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve was constructed – with storage of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil in underground “salt domes” in the coastal area below New Orleans.  He started that job when he was only 31 years old!

Through much of the ’80s, he worked in engineering for a firm developing treatment systems for waste products from oil and gas drilling, then he moved on to research and development of synthetic fuels, both in Louisiana.

WHEN ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION BEGAN. In 1988, he joined a new firm Terra Vac, which was a start-up in the new environmental remediation field.  Cox told me that Terra Vac was formed “by a bunch of Ivy Leaguers who got together, and I was the oldest guy in the company.”

The CEO was Jim Malot, an Omaha native and Princeton graduate.  Now retired in Davis, Calif., he recalled “that when we were starting up, the only kind of soil remediation there was, was to dig it up and take it to a landfill somewhere. We developed the vacuum extraction system, and it became the method of soil remediation used everywhere.”

Malot said remediation “was not a well-developed industry then, so there was no established pathway from college to the job.  I remember that Bob came to us with a lot of diverse job experience, and I think that gave him some unique understanding of the projects we were working on. The thing that Bob was able to figure out was how to vacuum the soil, making sure all that vaporized stuff – some of it radioactive – wouldn’t get spewed out in the atmosphere.”

And that’s what Cox did from the late 1980s, thru the 1990s and into the new century.

It was a time when one big corporation was gobbling up another, as the environmental remediation industry grew. Cox moved from Terra Vac, to OHM Remediation Services, to IT Corporation, to Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure.

They were working big jobs – project contracts often were in tens of millions of dollars, sometimes hundreds of millions.

Bob Cox in late 2015.jpg

Bob Cox in late 2015. Besides his sons and brother, he is also survived by two sisters, Marilyn Campbell and her husband Bill of El Cajon, Calif., and Beverly Johnson and her husband Kenneth of Shenandoah.

“Bob took his responsibilities as an environmental steward of our planet to heart by working at some of the most severely impacted project sites in the world,” Terry Fong, of Pleasant Hill, Calif., told me.  She was a business development and marketing executive, who recruited the major projects that Cox, other scientists and engineers with IT Corporation would build, demolish or remediate.

“Man-made hazardous substances and pollutants necessitated monumental efforts by many engineers and scientists, including Bob, at U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy installations,” Fong wrote in an email, “such as those at Midway Atoll, the Sacramento Army Depot, the Hanford Site in Washington state where plutonium was manufactured during the Cold War, and at industrial sites, such as the Sand Creek Superfund site in Colorado and a polyvinyl chloride-producing plant in Australia.”  Another was cleaning jet fuel from Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean.

“Bob was a brilliant scientist, who led his team to patent OHM’s Fluid Injection-Vacuum Extraction (FIVE) process that involved steam injection and vapor extraction to clean up sites contaminated with volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds,” Fong continued. “The ‘FIVE’ process was successfully applied to many project sites to expedite environmental cleanup efforts. Bob was a stickler for accurate reportage of field data and careful not to overstate any findings or conclusions.”

A POPULAR GUY WHEREVER HE WANDERED. As you might imagine, that kind of work over so many decades was transforming for the kid from Shenandoah, Iowa.

“Bob was a world citizen,” Fong said.  “He embraced many cultures and showed religious tolerance for the beliefs of others, hence the diversity of his friends whose roots can be traced to India, China, Vietnam, Russia, Poland, Mexico, and the  United Kingdom and who are followers of Christianity, Judaism, Buddha, Confucius, the Tao, or who are atheists or agnostics.”

Among those friends and colleagues is Emma Popek, of Walnut Creek, Calif., a town 30 miles east of San Francisco, the same town where Cox lived for several years.  She was a chemist who worked with Cox at OHM from 1994 until 2001, including on the Midway Atoll clean-up.

That island takes its name from its location, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the site of military staging and actual battles for decades, especially so during World War II. It had never really been cleaned of its contamination until the mid 1990s.

“Bob was a great engineer, one who designed and built many amazing systems,” Popek wrote in an email.  “I worked with him on the Midway project and, although there were many other projects, this was the highest achievement of everyone involved. It was huge. Over 100 small fuel tanks were removed, several 1-million gallon fuel tanks were demolished, buildings were removed, two vapor extraction systems were built and operated – Bob’s handiwork. Soil was removed, there was landfilling, and what not. There was even removal of unidentified drums from the bottom of the sea.  There were dozens of people involved, technical and labor alike. People did not stay there permanently. We came and went based on need. The living conditions and the food were abysmal, but the landscape and the camaraderie were outstanding.”

Popek wrote that she remembers “Bob showing me the works on Midway, and it was really astounding: Jet fuel was extracted from the subsurface with the patented technology and then used to fire up the whole system.  It was self-contained and very effective.”

That work has won high praise.  “Recently President Obama declared Midway Atoll a marine preserve and part of a national monument,” Popek wrote. “Bob and I talked about it during one of my last visits to him and we were so proud of this project.”

A RUSSIAN BALLERINA SWEPT HIM OFF HIS FEET. She had another, more personal insight about Cox, who always tended to wear his heart on his sleeve, easy pickings even for people who weren’t trying to pick him at all.

“I am an immigrant from Russia and a fan of classical ballet,” Popek wrote. “Many years ago, I convinced Bob to see the Mariinsky Ballet from St. Petersburg (which was performing in San Francisco) and he agreed.  He fell in love with the art – and especially with one of the ballerinas, Diana Vishneva.  He was swept off his feet with her beauty and artistry. He talked only about Diana for months.  It was a serious infatuation – and also a butt of many jokes among friends.”

Was the ballerina even aware of his infatuation?

No, said Popek, “the ballerina Vishneva did not know anything.  But I vaguely remember that her autograph was obtained by some insidious means for Bob. It must be still in his papers. I also remember that he went back to see her performance again.”

Later, she had another ballet experience with Cox.  “At the time, I had cancer and was having chemotherapy treatment,” she said. “There was a world premiere at the San Francisco Ballet of ‘Sylvia,’ a work of Mark Morris whom I admire. Being in no shape to go anywhere, I lamented to Bob, and he immediately offered to take me to the show. I could not believe my ears, and answered that I would go on condition that he take me to the city in his Cadillac. And he did!

“I dressed up, put on a wig – the first and the last time I wore one during the treatment – and my husband helped me to the Cadillac. Bob took me to the city where we met with a couple of friends and had dinner first, then we saw the ballet.  All this time I thought I will never make it home because I was so sick from the chemo. I will never forget that evening, first, because of Bob’s friendship and generosity, and second, because I seriously thought I wouldn’t make it. Sweet and sour, all together.  Bob had many unique qualities, which I respect and value, but I will never forget the Cadillac, the dinner and the ballet performance.”

In the late 1990s and early in the 2000s, Cox lived and worked off and-on in Australia for different companies, then in 2006 he formed his own firm, Cox Environmental Consulting, Inc., based in Las Vegas.

THE START OF SERIOUS HEALTH PROBLEMS. From about 2003, he began having health problems.

As he wrote of himself in a “medical history summary” that he provided his physicians, “During (my) approximate 50-year work history, approximately 30 years were subject to chemical exposure, mostly through the inhalation pathway, to volatile organic compounds including several chlorinated hydrocarbons known to adversely impact the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract.”

He endured a difficult surgery in 2003 to remove his gall bladder, and the start of serious liver damage was detected.  He developed varicose veins on his esophagus.

Despite that, in 2005, while doing an internet search for information, Cox came across another of our old high school classmates, Aleda Kellgren, who was living in Leon, Iowa.  She was struggling with her own health problems and with a business selling pet supplies and pet shampoo that she had been running for years.  Cox began trying to help her, and initially things went well.  But then Kellgren’s health problems intensified, and the situation became a financial disaster.

That seemed to exacerbate health problems for both of them, and by 2010 they ended the business relationship and parted ways.

Cox moved what was left of that business to Boulder City, Nevada, about 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

In the spring of 2011, his doctors recommended he undergo a liver transplant, and they began making plans for that at the Veterans Administration Hospital in San Diego.

But on July 8, 2011, Cox decided against having that risky procedure. The medical record he later shared with me reports: “Mr. Cox revealed…that he had made a risk and cost benefit assessment of the transplant surgery.  He had concluded that quality of life, extended life prognosis and cost to the VA was not adequately justified.  He opted out of the transplant surgery program, preferring instead to live with the body dealt him at birth.”

And he began wearing a “Do not resuscitate” bracelet.

WE WERE STUNNED.  His decision shocked and saddened old friends, of course.  Several of us visited him at different times in Boulder City, and subsequently in two other places he lived – in the tiny town of Searchlight, Nevada, and finally south of Reno.

He made a final trip home to Shenandoah in September of 2015 for the 50-year reunion of our Class of ’65, and he was in high spirits the whole visit.  He made a trip to see friends in the San Francisco Bay area for Thanksgiving in 2015.

But his liver and blood problems grew worse and last April, he blacked out while driving in the Reno area.  He spent his remaining months hospitalized, in a convalescent center or in hospice care.

On my visit with him in October, 2012, I tried to talk him into moving back to Shenandoah, or at least Iowa.  His sons tried to persuade him to move near the two of them in the San Francisco Bay area.  But he said he found Nevada to be an almost perfect place for him.  “There’s no corporate or individual income tax here,” he said, with a smile, “and with the mountains and all the rest of this terrain, this is a paradise for a geologist like me.”  He loved showing off nearby Hoover Dam, and we took a cruise on beautiful Lake Mead, which the dam created.

When he told me about the physical damage that all the exposure to chemicals apparently caused in his internal organs and vessels, I asked if he thought he was due any compensation for that.

“No, I’m not suing anybody, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “What I did through my career wasn’t just my work, it was my life. I loved it.”

As with most of his visitors, he took me to the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, and showed me the tomb where he’d already arranged for his cremains to be placed.  It is right off the end of the runway of the local airport, he pointed out, “appropriate for somebody who likes aviation as much as I do.”  He’d also arranged for his name, birth and death dates to be marked there, with this epitaph: “Environmental Steward.”

That’s where his family and friends will gather on Monday, Dec. 12, for a military memorial service at 12:40 p.m.

That visit in 2012 was a little weird, for sure.  We both laughed about that.

But I thanked him for all he’d told me about his life, his career, his complicated spirituality and his acceptance that death was coming.  “I mean, I hope I live a long time,” he said, “but I’m ready.”

THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN A BOOK. Ever the reporter, I told him his was a story that should be told.

That’s when he told me he had written his “medical history summary,” and I insisted he send it to me and include his professional resume. I told him that, besides the two documents, I wanted him to start writing notes about what he’d seen and done; whom he’d worked with, and what his thoughts were on the envirionment and the future.

I told him that could lead to a book and, depending on his health, to speaking and teaching opportunities for him.

About a month later, he sent me the medical summary and resume.  I don’t think he ever started the notes.  But he did close his letter to me with this amazing, long paragraph:

“I hope this helps.  The details of the medical information are unimportant, although it forced me to reassess and confirm how I seemingly wandered through my life, wanting to make a meaningful contribution to society while shaping my view of religion, politics, and a multi-faceted approach to applied science and the arts.  Seemed way too big and varied – although everybody experiences these trials in a lifetime.  Maybe that’s the story’s appeal. Love ya, Bob.”

You know, I don’t have any other friends who think like that, or would write something like that.

I’ll really miss Bob Cox.

About three weeks before he died, Bob mentioned in a phone chat with his brother Jim Cox that he was often chilly in the convalescent center.

“You know how proud he was that he went to Dartmouth,” Jim told me. “I decided, what the heck, he ought to have a Dartmouth blanket.  I called the book store out there in New Hampshire, and had them ship him a Dartmouth flannel shirt – that’d be a good warm shirt for him to wear – and a blanket.

“When they called and told me that he’d died, they told me they found him in his bed there with that Dartmouth blanket kind of wrapped around him,” Jim Cox said. “I’m so glad I got that to him.”

Dear old Dartmouth, give a rouse
For the College on the hill,
For the Lone Pine above her,
And the loyal ones who love her.
Give a rouse, give a rouse, with a will!
For the sons of old Dartmouth,
For the daughters of Dartmouth.
Though ’round the girdled Earth they roam,
Her spell on them remains.
They have the still North in their hearts,
The hill winds in their veins,
And the granite of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains.
And the granite of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains.

                                          –Alma Mater

Honestly, Bob Cox touched almost everybody in our Class of ’65 as profoundly as he did me.

Denny Howard, a basketball teammate who is now a clothing and sporting goods store owner in Shenandoah, said “my memories of Bob are that he was always the smartest person in the room, yet he didn’t act like he knew he was that person. That’s not a very good way of saying it, but I hope you get what I mean.”

Pat Perkins, a retired school audiometrist in Shenandoah, said the thing she’ll always remember about Cox “is his friendship to all. Just one of the nicest guys a person could ever know.”

She added that when she and her husband Richard Perkins have traveled over the years, “we met up with Bob numerous times.” He showed them his burial site in Boulder City. “Another time, we met up with Bob for dinner in Las Vegas and after dinner he decided we should ride the High Roller,” a 550-foot tall, 520-foot diameter giant Ferris wheel on the Vegas strip. “That was something I was not in favor of, as I don’t care for rides like that! But he would not take ‘no’ for an answer, so off the three of us went, and what a beautiful sight to see Vegas all lit up at dusk. So glad I went on that ride and so glad I got to know Bob as a friend and classmate.”

A CLASSMATE’S COMFORT AND CONSOLATION.  I took the discussion to Rev. Wes Smith, our classmate now retired after a long career as a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene – except that he’s back to work as an interim minister at a congregation in Chesterfield, Va.  I told Smith that since he’ll always be “senior pastor” of our class, we’d like to hear his comfort and consolation as we all grieve the loss of Cox.

“Bob was impossible not to respect,” Smith wrote in response. “He addressed everything in his life with the same seriousness and determination.  His prowess, especially on the football field, drew both my sense of wonder and admiration.  He was a gifted athlete, but added to that giftedness were grit and perseverance that elevated him to ‘hero of the class’ status.  He was an exceptional athlete but was as comfortable in the classroom as he was on the football field or basketball court.  His versatility strongly impacted the entire class with a higher level of dedication to life and excellence.”

He continued: “Surveys have been taken among senior citizens about what they wanted to be the contributions of their lives.  One of the outcomes of such surveys has always been that they wanted to ‘leave a legacy.’  The bottom-line truth is that every one of us will leave a legacy, covering a wide spectrum. Some will have those left behind scratching their heads trying to figure out why that person lived.  Someone else will leave behind people who were so impacted that they will engage others in rich conversations about the contributions made by the departed. Bob was clearly in the latter category!

“The classic contemplation of folks like us, for whom the end of life as we know it is in sight, is, ‘What in the world is out there beyond my last breath here?’

“As a young child, I committed these words of Jesus in John 14:1-4, to memory: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not true, I would have told you.  I go now to prepare a place for you.  And, if I go to prepare a place for you, I will, indeed, come back and receive you unto myself that where I am you may be also.’

“The good news is that life here is just the beginning,” Smith concluded. “The best is yet to be!  To think of mortality is to think of the shortest part. I do not know where I read this, but someone said, ‘If a little swallow could take a grain of sand from the East Coast and fly for one year and deposit that grain on the West Coast, and pick up a grain there and fly for one year and deposit that grain on the East Coast, that by the time that little bird could make enough trips to move all the sand from one coast to the other, that eternity – forever – would have only begun.’

“So, live for the by-far-longest part of your existence!

“Leave a legacy of excellence.  Leave a legacy of making the world a better, cleaner place.  Leave a legacy of fairness and justice.  Leave a legacy of turning the small things of life into big things.  That’s what Bob did!”

Bob Cox and Chuck CROPPED.jpg

Bob Cox and the columnist in 2012, ready for a cruise on Lake Mead above Hoover Dam, outside Boulder City, Nevada.

You can email the columnist at chuck@Offenburger.com or comment using the handy form below here.

14 thoughts on “A requiem for Bob Cox, “a brilliant scientist,” “world citizen” & my pal

  1. Great article about your friend. You had me at George Haws. I also had the privilege of having Mr. Haws as a teacher and coach at Marshalltown High School. Bob Cox, a life well lived.

  2. Brother Chuck, Thank you! That was AWESOME! Thank you for your magic of bringing Bob back to life! Fantastic! Your account of the game against Atlantic was a jewel. I was there and am stilled annoyed at the call by the ref! It was SO good to read about Bob’s life. Everything in that article was just perfect. Thanks, again.

    Friend, Wes

  3. Chuck, This is a great tribute to Bob, and of course very well written. I learned things I did not know about his adult life. One of my strongest memories of him was his respect for others. Whether or not we shared similar interests, he was a model of the best of Midwest values. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey.

  4. Wow, What a trip down Memory Lane! From the football game against Atlantic, to Bob’s incredible and important career in the military and in civilian life cleaning up our damaged environment. Thanks for a great tribute to Bob with your writing, Chuck.

    Dave Bayless, Des Moines

  5. Thank you. Lots I didn’t know about Bob. Mel and I had lunch with him in Las Vegas, maybe five or six years ago. What a great time catching up, and it was so good to see him at our last reunion. Your tribute reminds me of what a great person he was.

    Karen Chesshire Ray

  6. A tremendous article on an outstanding man! Thank you for this tribute to your dear friend, Chuck. It seems to me that Shenandoah, Iowa, has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a small town that has produced the greatest collection of big minds in the state of Iowa.

  7. Chuck, thank you for a wonderful tribute to our classmate and friend Bob Cox. Always a leader, always a role model and a hero for countless Mustangs.
    Rest in peace, my friend.

  8. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Bob. I loved the picture of Bob with his son in his plaid shirt rather than his
    trademark blue shirt and dress pants. Whenever I would send a card, I would always end it with, “Take care, dear friend.” And that he was.

  9. Hi Chuck. A sincere and fitting tribute to Bob, one that we can all appreciate. He was an outstanding leader, student, athlete and even more importantly a fine person. Kerry and I had the privilege of sitting with him at your class reunion. A memory that has now become a treasure.

    Coach Tom England

  10. Chuck, you’re right. This should have been a book. What a delightful read and fitting tribute to Bob. Everything Wes Smith said is so appropriate. Thank you, Wes. Bob and I used to ride bikes and play in creeks and ditches near our houses on Farnham (where I lived) and Matthew (where Bob lived). Ronee Livermore lived around the corner from us and was part of our “gang” at times as well. We rode bikes all over the place together. We used to walk down to the store on Matthew right before the Washington intersection and buy candy and pop. Those were great days and great kid times together. I didn’t stay in touch with Bob like you and the others, but he made a profound impression on me with his leadership skills all his successful athletic and academic accomplishments as well as his incredibly genuine concern for others. He will be missed.

  11. What a wonderful tribute to Bob! You have captured so much of Bob, his life, his family, and his professional accomplishments. I knew Bob at Dartmouth and later at Terra Vac, where he was responsible for helping me land a job. We stayed in touch. I was one of the honors students with whom Bob went to Guatemala to work on a senior thesis in 1969. Post-Terra Vac, we continued to correspond as Bob moved around the Pacific to help with complex environmental clean-up projects on Midway and in Australia while maintaining a rich and varied life in the San Francisco Bay area. One of his projects there was to help restore the front doors to the landmark Grace Episcopal Cathedral. I last heard from Bob when he relocated to Las Vegas, but his passing caught me by surprise. Thank you for capturing Bob’s life in an eloquent tribute.

    Charles Pineo

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