JACK COX. Aviation’s writer/editor/historian/enthusiast emeritus. Pictured above with his wife Golda.
We were somewhere in the middle of the desert heading for my daughter's when my cell phone rang. It was Sunday morning, and the name on the caller ID was a friend from EAA HQ who normally didn't call on Sunday. Something was wrong. In aviation circles, that generally means we've lost someone. But I would have never guessed who.
In a quiet voice, she said, "Jack died this morning." I didn't have to ask which Jack. Within sport-aviation circles, there's only one Jack: Jack Cox. I couldn't believe what my ears had just heard, and asked her to repeat it. But I had heard right. It was totally unexpected. A death way out of sequence. And I made no effort to stop the tears. I couldn't have if I had wanted to. I'm not that strong. Never have been. Never will be. Don't want to be. If I can't shed a tear for Jack (and his wife, Golda, by extension), who can I shed one for?
By now, if you have anything at all to do with sport aviation, you've already heard that we lost Jack. I say "we" rather than "I," because I can't imagine the incredible outpouring of sympathy that's being directed at Golda right now.
The entire world of aviation must be reaching out to her. This for two reasons, the first being that you seldom, if ever, just said "Jack." You always said "JackAndGolda," as if it were a single word. They were that inseparable. That much of a team. That much a part of every sport aviator's life.
The other reason she's undoubtedly being pummeled by well-wishers, when she probably just wants a little peace, is that Jack was easily the best liked, most respected individual in aviation. Hell, he was the most likable person I ever met. And this is saying a lot. As a community, aviation tends to attract high-profile individuals with lots of strong personalities, all with our fair share of ego. But not Jack. Even though he was at the absolute pinnacle of his chosen profession, he was as approachable as everyone's favorite uncle, and as gracious as anyone could possibly be. It makes almost no difference who you talk about in aviation, you can always find someone who's willing to talk trash about them. That having been said, I'll guarantee you that not a living soul has ever said anything negative about Jack. He was so well liked that it was just a little scary.
To the few who are reading who don't know the name Jack Cox, just let me say that there are three names that were responsible for the growth of sport aviation. Two of them are Poberezny and the other is Cox. As the editor of the EAA's magazine for more than three decades, he probably had more impact than Paul and Tom P. because, to the rank-and-file member, the EAA is the magazine, and vice versa.
I'm going to make no effort to chronicle Jack's contributions to the lives of so many through his writings, because I'm positive the EAA, and just about every av organization worth its salt, will run lavish spreads memorializing him. As well, they should. So, anything I can say in that vein would be redundant. And just a little bit hollow. I would rather remember the man, the friend, the mentor, the other half of Golda.
I'm not sure I know when I first met the two of them, because I don't remember not knowing them. Not as an adult anyway. For sure, I knew them when Oshkosh first became Oshkosh in 1970. But I may have met them while they were running the museum at Santee, S.C., before that. Maybe not. Like I said, I don't remember not knowing them.
Jack lived and breathed aviation, and knew more about more different aspects of it than any 10 men that I know. And I know some pretty sharp guys. But none of them have the breadth and depth of knowledge that Jack had. In fact, I'm going to say something right now that I'm positive can be said about very few people in aviation, past or present: If Jack Cox said something, it was true. Pure and simple. That's how good his research was, and how much of a fruitcake he was for details. At the same time, while he was passing along information in his thousands of articles, it came across as if we were all sitting around in front of a hangar, and he was telling his tale face-to-face. He was a comfortable guy to read. You didn't have to actually know him, to know him. You knew him through his words. And because of that, his readers knew without asking that they could drop him a note or give him a call, and he would be happy to hear from them. That's just the kind of guy he was.
Jack and Golda had massive effects on my life in so many different ways. I, for instance, can't look back at the EAA convention without seeing Golda behind the big desk in the media center or sitting next to Jack in a golf cart. And I can't think of Oshkosh without smiling at the way Jack and I always thought in parallel ways. I can't count the times he would track me down and say, "Come on, I have to show you something…," and we would go whizzing off to look at something that he knew would light my wick, because it fired his.
At one point in my life, Jack also saved my butt. Whether he did it because he knew I needed the help (which I suspect), or because he needed the help from me, I don't know, but it was greatly appreciated. During that period, which my kids call the "DP" (dark period…divorce, etc., etc.), I was really backed against the wall, and Jack would call, give me a pep talk, and then give me a writing assignment. Both of which were seriously appreciated. And seriously needed.
As I look back at what I've written, I realize it's just words. And they aren't words that say what I really feel. With the billions of words available, I just can't summon the power to pull the right ones together that say how much I'll miss Jack. And how deep-down sad I feel, knowing that the Jack/Golda team is no more.
Jack, we all loved you. Every damn one of us. And Golda, know this: We love you too. And I hope it makes you feel just a little bit better. We're all here for you.