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Tom A. Cox
A large Buddha with long-hanging earlobes meditates between windows looking out onto the deck of Tom Cox’s home, a peach-hued hibiscus settled before its crossed legs. White lilies and roses, and white and peach carnations stand in vases around the light-filled room, while a fraught tapestry by the French artist Lucien Coutaud hangs over the mantle of his granite fireplace. This piece’s more joyous companion—a celebration of music and wine in post-war Paris—takes up one wall of the library wing.
Last summer, during a COA reception at his home, food was served on Italian hand-painted plates designed by an artist with a PhD in biochemistry, each plate featuring a different function of the heart. “It’s an example of the mixing of the disciplines of science and art,” said the soft-spoken Cox, whose quiet, patient demeanor has an element of the Buddhas he lovingly collects.
The same interweaving of appreciation—for art, science, and the environment—that led Tom Cox to create his light-filled home in Seal Harbor, connects him to College of the Atlantic, where he has been a trustee since 2008, and a supporter in ways that prove there’s no problem with the functioning of his heart.
Cox’s environmental leanings were fostered early by family visits from his Fort Smith, Arkansas home to the nearby Ozark Mountains, where his mother insisted that he should always leave a place in better condition than when he arrived.
After receiving a degree in Asian art at Oklahoma University, Cox spent three years on a destroyer in the Pacific as a commissioned naval officer. Discharged too late in the year to apply to graduate school, Cox headed to New York City to find a job. “I started in alphabetical order, beginning with Bankers Trust,” he says. “And that’s as far as I went.” In 1970, Cox left Bankers Trust and became a private trustee. Semi-retired now, he still keeps a few clients—serving the fourth and fifth generations of several families.
The gift to COA by David Rockefeller that established The David Rockefeller Family Chair in Ecosystem Management and Protection at College of the Atlantic offered Cox a further opportunity to connect with COA. Years before, when Cox sought to protect his land on Sutton’s Island, he worked closely with Rockefeller’s wife Peggy (whose two farm properties on Norway Drive were also donated to the college). “She was my mentor,” Cox says, “guiding me through the learning process of creating easements.” So when Lynn Boulger, dean of development, asked donors to accompany the Rockefeller chair with a fund to support professional development, fieldwork, information resources, and other program needs, Cox stepped up, establishing the T.A. Cox Fund for Ecosystem Management and Protection.
Cox’s generosity extends from the grand—initiating, for instance, the $25,000-minimum President’s Circle—to something as small and deeply appreciated as boxes of Texas 1015 onions and Florida grapefruits for COA staff and faculty. Clearly this financial expert also has an artist’s sense of the telling detail, an awareness that a grand project such as a small college of human ecology must be supported by scores of hands working together—and that these efforts take heart from the kindness and nourishment of an unexpected bit of sunlight in the midst of winter’s chill.