William A. Cox, Jr.
Class of 1934, BS
When William A. Cox, Jr.’s family moved to a farm in the middle of his seventh grade education, he was a city boy going to the country. So to learn something about farming, he enrolled in agriculture at Oceana High School, missing out on classes in chemistry and physics. He became active in 4-H, and served as the president of a tri-county 4-H group. As a teenager, his interests were in hunting and fishing, not in engineering.
However, his high school baseball coach Sherman Seelinger encouraged the young Cox to travel across the state to VPI in 1930. He rode the Huckleberry Train to Blacksburg, arriving early in the morning during a dense fog. He was immediately introduced to the military “rat” system, and he did not find the weather or the social structure very attractive. His freshman year was not his finest from an academic standpoint, and he did not expect to return.
But after a summer back on the farm, he became eager to rejoin his classmates at VPI. His lackluster grades provided him the opportunity to grow very familiar with the dean’s office, and by his junior year, Dean Norris became a counselor for the Hokie. As a result of his underachievements during his freshman year, the mechanical engineering student had to promise the Dean that he would earn As and Bs in classes where he did not have the prerequisites. The Dean also encouraged Cox’s choice of a flying career, allowing him to take aircraft and engine electives in lieu of a course in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC). And, once again, he avoided some chemistry.
Upon graduation from Virginia Tech in 1934, Mr. Cox and his now deceased brother Marion King (1940, VPI) started their own business, renting boats at Virginia Beach. Although this occupation lasted only a few months, he would eventually return to owning his own business. He spent five years with R.F. Trant, Inc., of Norfolk. Ironically, he was now in HVAC engineering, which he had avoided in college. He prepared by taking a greatly condensed course in HVAC engineering at a Frigidaire factory.
In 1941, with World War II looming, the Army Reserve First Lieutenant volunteered for active duty with the 71st CA (AA). After three years of service in various CONUS positions, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He served in the Allied defense of the United Kingdom and the Port of Antwerp. He transferred to the headquarters of General George Patton’s Third U.S. Army in Germany, serving as the executive officer of the Anti-aircraft Artillery staff section. He was awarded the Bronze Star with the Oak Leaf Cluster. He was promoted to colonel and remained in the active reserve from 1946 until 1964.
In 1946, Col. Cox co-founded the Cox-Frank Corporation, a Norfolk, Virginia mechanical and general contractors firm. After several years, Mr. Cox bought out Frank, and the firm was eventually renamed Cox-Powell, in recognition of another Virginia Tech engineering alumnus, J.V. Powell, Jr. Powell, a chemical engineering graduate of Virginia Tech, also without HVAC classroom experience, had joined the firm, making his mark as vice president. As a result, Mr. Cox made him a partner. Both were Professional Engineers.
After nearly four decades, Mr. Cox retired in 1984, continuing his separate part-time consulting engineering practice.
Mr. Cox has held a number of leadership positions during his career. He served as the president of the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers (1953-54), the Builders and Contractors Exchange (1956), the Kiwanis Club of Norfolk (1959), the National Society of Professional Engineers (1980-81), and the National Academy of Forensic Engineers (1985). He is also a past chair of the Hampton Roads Sanitation Commission (1975-77), and held membership on the Virginia Beach General Hospital Board of Directors.
His honors include: the 1972 Engineer of the Year, Tidewater Chapter of VSPE; the 1973 and the 1981 Engineer of the Year, VSPE; the Most Outstanding Member of the Associated Professions in 1980, awarded by the Virginia Association of Professions; and the Distinguished Alumnus Award for 1981 for Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.
The cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach proclaimed July 25, 1980 as “Bill Cox Day.”
Mr. Cox recently celebrated his 62nd wedding anniversary with his wife Sue Hume Cox, and they have three sons and six grandchildren.
Class of: 1934
Year Inducted into Academy: 1999