Edna Ferber’s “Giant” celebrated an era when derricks sprouted throughout the state of Texas like bluebonnets and giants were indeed made thanks to the guzzling demands of automobiles for oil. It was a ripe time for a young, smart fella to become what seemed like an overnight success.
One of those fellas was Edwin Lochridge Cox. Everybody just called him “Ed.” Born October 20, 1921, in Mena, Arkansas, he had started learning about the oil business while still in high school as his dad, Edwin Berry Cox, and his partner, Jake Hamon, worked the Oklahoma fields.
Young Ed was a bright guy who was accepted at Harvard but opted to attend Southern Methodist University from 1938-1940. While there he was a member of Phi Delta Theta, Alpha Kappa Psi and Alpha Phi Omega and played in the Mustang band (He eventually would graduate from the University of Texas in 1942 and earn industrial administration and M.B.A. degrees from Harvard University in 1943 and 1946, respectively.).
But with the advent of World War II, Ed signed up, becoming a Navy lieutenant. It was during this time in 1944 that he married 20-year-old, Dallas native Ruth Ann Rife, whom everybody called “Ann.” They made a striking couple — the young Naval officer and his beautiful blond wife who had attended The Hockaday School and graduated from The University of Texas just the year before.
Three years later they would not only have their first child, Edwin Lochridge Cox Jr., but Ed would return to his roots in oil, partnering up with his father and Hamon. Eventually the partnership was dissolved, so the Coxes would create Cox And Cox to build on the oil boom.
Over the years, the family grew to include another son Berry Rife Cox and daughter Chandler “Chan” Cox. While Ann raised the kids and became active in charitable fundraising (i.e., Cattle Baron’s Ball, Crystal Charity Ball, Junior League of Dallas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Sweetheart Ball, etc.), Ed was building an empire. But like Ann, he was also sharing his success and wealth with American Red Cross, Dallas Assembly, Dallas Society for Crippled Children, Dallas Zoological Society, Hope Cottage Children’s Bureau, Library of Congress Trust Fund, Presbyterian Hospital, Texas Cancer Society, UT Cancer Foundation, UT Southwestern Medical Center and the World Affairs Council, The Hockaday School, St. Mark’s School of Texas, the Greenhill School and, of course, SMU.
It was at SMU where he loved investing time and money, serving on the board of trustees and donating so much money that the school of business was named after him.
According to Cox School of Business and Tolleson Chair in Business Leadership Dean Matthew B. Myers, “Ed Cox was one of the first people I met when I came to campus to interview for my current position. Warmth, dignity and positivity emanated from him. His presence convinced me that I wanted to move to Dallas and wanted to work with him to take the Cox School to even greater heights. Ed Cox epitomized the can-do spirit that defines the Cox School, SMU and Dallas.”
In addition to their philanthropic endeavors, the Coxes like so many of the oil elite were also enjoying the good life.
In October 1973, the Coxes threw a major ball honoring their daughter Chan at The Statler Hotel on the eve of the annual Idlewild debutante ball. It would set the pace for the rest of that debutante season and those to come. The walls of the ballroom were covered to look like an undersea grotto embedded with aquariums. In the center of the ballroom were buffets of food extending from a pirate ship from which Skitch Henderson and his orchestra played. At 10 p.m., guests were directed to a stage alongside the far side of the room where the Jackson Five performed.
The following year Ann and Ed purchased the 6.6-acre estate of Rose Lloyd at the corner of Preston and Beverly Drive overlooking Turtle Creek. As outstanding as the property was, Rose’s residency had become the stuff that separated Texas rich from the rest of the world.
According to writer Elizabeth Ygartua, “The legend goes that in the early days of Highland Park, the town’s budget was mistakenly sent to her (Rose’s) house. Thinking it was her tax bill, she sat down and wrote a check for the entire amount.”
Still another story involved Rose’s neighbor across the street — the Dallas Country Club. According to author Diane Galloway’s book “Dallas Country Club: The First 100 Years,” Rose was “a bit of a thorn in the DCC’s side. During a party she was having in her garden, she smelled an offensive odor coming from Turtle Creek. The country club had been running its sewage, with town approval, into the creek. Not having any of that, Rose had the drain cemented shut overnight and called the next morning to advise the club to not let any of its members run the showers that day.”
Following Rose’s death, Ann and Ed undertook a major updating of the original mansion and the building of a tennis court on the property. So the story goes that, due to Highland Park restrictions at the time, a private tennis court could not be built exposed to the public. As a result, the Coxes built a massive building creating an indoor tennis court.
(Sidenote: It would be years later when former Gov. Bill Clements would buy the estate a door down Preston from the Cox estate and arrange to have the restriction removed, so that he could have a tennis court with a view of Turtle Creek.)
The result of the Coxes’ efforts was a true showplace, but it would also be short-lived for Ann, who died at the age of 60 in 1984 after battling cancer.
Despite the loss of his wife, Ed carried on staying active professionally, personally and philanthropically.For his decades of leadership and contributions, he was honored time and again. In 1985 he received the John Rogers Award from the Institute for Energy Law in 1985. Five years later he was was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame. Just last month, the SMU Cox School of Business celebrated its centennial by launching “the inaugural Cox Visionary Award for his extraordinary leadership and contributions to the business community.”
This year as the trees on the Cox estate once again light up around the holidays, the lights within the mansion will be dark. For, at the age of 99, Ed Cox will no longer be in residence. One of the last of the great oil barons passed away Thursday.