Double Churches Middle School principal Chris Cox, 56, died Wednesday night at Midtown Medical Center. He was battling cancer.
Muscogee County School District superintendent David Lewis called Cox “a highly dedicated individual, as evidenced by the fact that he kept coming back to school even when he was pretty ill throughout the year.
“He had shared with me that he wanted to continue to work as long as he could. That made him get up in the morning and inspired him to continue living his life.”
And he inspired countless others in the district, where he worked for 33 years. He taught at Rothschild Middle School (1981-2002) and Double Churches (2002-03) before moving into leadership positions, first back at Rothschild as assistant principal (2003-04) and principal (2004-10), then School Improvement Grant administrator in the central office’s academics department (2010-12) and lastly back at Double Churches as principal.
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The 2009-10 Rothschild yearbook was dedicated to Cox upon his departure, calling him a “positive role model” who made academic excellence his first priority but also supported athletics by attending the school’s games. Kayla Harris, then a Rothschild student, was quoted in the yearbook as saying, “I get encouraged to play harder because he is there.”
Such encouragement made a lasting impact. Just ask Auburn University defensive lineman Gabe Wright. The former Carver High star tweeted, “Coach Chris cox you now Rip, if you guys only knew how important hes role was as principal of my middle school. Huge reason im @Auburn!”
The district is in the middle of administering the state’s standardized exams, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. Double Churches was supposed to take the math CRCT on Thursday, but the Georgia Department of Education granted the school a waiver until Monday to allow time for grieving.
“It’s an emotional day for students and staff of Double Churches Middle School and all who loved him,” Dawn Harper, the school’s assistant principal, said in a news release. “Mr. Cox touched the hearts and lives of many people across the district. His dedication, commitment and contribution to children, education, faculty and staff will never be forgotten.”
After a moment of silence during homeroom Thursday morning at Double Churches, the district’s crisis team of counselors, social workers, psychologists and administrators were available to help the students and staff cope with the loss of their leader, said Valerie Fuller, the district’s communications director.
Through his commitment to education, Cox forged meaningful relationships beyond the school district. He had extensive talks about finding ways to help disadvantaged children with David Rothschild before the school board member, businessman, philanthropist and community leader died in 2009. The David Rothschild Co. was a Partner in Education with the school named after his late uncle Maurice Rothschild, who also was a school board member.
David’s wife, Barbara Rothschild, noted Rothschild Middle was named a Title I Distinguished School under Cox’s guidance for making Adequate Yearly Progress three consecutive years while serving students from predominantly low-income families.
“He kept the scholarship level up very well,” Mrs. Rothschild said. “He was a dedicated and caring principal. He worked so well with our family, David in particular.”
Current school board members also expressed appreciation for Cox. John Wells of District 2, which includes Double Churches, called Cox a "super principal."
"He did a good job and is really going to be missed," Wells said.
Wells said that Cox had been sick for quite a while but that his death was still a shock.
"My sympathies go to his family and to those at Double Churches," he said.
Cathy Williams, the board's county-wide representative, said, "Chris was one of the really good guys. He was a real leader and a team player. He just contributed so much to the Muscogee County School District."
Cox’s wife, Rosie, is a sixth-grade science teacher at Aaron Cohn Middle School. According to his obituary, he was born March 18, 1958, in Columbus to Sonny Cox and Beth Franklin. Other survivors include his son, Brian, and daughter, Christie, who follows in his footsteps as an English teacher.
According to Striffler-Hamby Funeral Homes, visitation will be 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Solid Rock Assembly of God, followed by the memorial service at 4 p.m. The burial at Wavery Hall Cemetery will be private, but family members will be at Midland Middle School, across Warm Springs Road from Solid Rock, at 6 p.m. to receive condolences.