News Story

NSU celebrates life of oldest alumna Rubye Cox

Rubye Cox gets cozy with her Northeastern State University blanket, alongside her sisters Rose and Ruth.

What Rubye Gawf Cox wanted more than anything as a young woman growing up in rural Oklahoma in the 1920s, was to be educated. Little money and an unsupportive father, who felt her time was better spent working on their farm in Muskogee, did nothing to stymie her resolve.

Cox was able to graduate from Northeastern State Teachers College in 1925, with her mother’s secret financial contributions and a part-time job at the school’s library.

Cox was the oldest living NSU alumna until her death on Dec. 2, 2015 at the age of 111.

Her daughter, Betty Gilbert said her mother persevered at a time when women were not traditionally expected to pursue an education.

“She was the first to go to college in her family, she was the oldest of seven children. Her father thought it was a waste of time. Her mother sold eggs from the farm to quietly support her.”

Gilbert laughed as she shared how that story eventually ended—with Cox’s father “grinning proudly” in the auditorium at his eldest daughter’s graduation ceremony.

Cox went on to become a teacher in a high school in Miami, Oklahoma for four years, where she used her degree to teach English and French.

She got married in 1929, and according to an amused Gilbert: “I came along and ruined her career.”

The growing family moved to Muskogee and opened a small grocery store on the very day Gilbert was born.

“That was their living. It was a small store, but it needed both of them.”

Cox had dreams of going back to school to get a master’s degree, but the Great Depression hit in the 1930s and almost no one was spared from the economic downturn.  

While taking care of her family, Cox did find her way back to teaching, but not in a traditional classroom. She became a superintendent at her church’s Sunday School, an unpaid position.

“Christian education became her teaching platform for more than 30 years,” Gilbert said.

She encouraged the men to go into the ministry and emphasized the importance of education to the women she met.

“A woman needs to have an education,” Cox unceasingly pointed out to her daughter.

Gilbert said her mother was strong-willed when it came to living her life, as she constantly found ways to improve herself and be self-sufficient.

When Cox’s husband died at the age of 65, Cox had never gotten her driver’s license.

“She got AAA to train her. She wanted to learn to drive to go to church, the grocery store and to see family.”

Gilbert recalled her mother’s love for books and reading, saying it was a passion she passed on to her children, nephews and nieces.

“She had hundreds of books about history, art and poetry. She kept her schoolbooks; they were precious to her.”

Cox read from her sacred book collection until she could not on her own anymore.

“She inspired so many people with her zest for life,” Gilbert said.

Cox looked back fondly on her years at Northeastern, and was proud of the education she received. Gilbert wished she was able to hear more about her mother’s exciting college tales while she was alive.

Cox had two children, Gilbert and son Carlyle, 11 grandchildren, 23 great grandchildren and 13 great great grandchildren.

Before she moved in with Gilbert and her husband in their Rhode Island home in 2002, mother and daughter always lived far apart, visiting each other at least once a year.

“We would lay in bed and laugh and talk for hours. She never stopped teaching,” she recalled happily, adding her mother’s words of wisdom were astute, as well as funny.

Cox once sagely said: “The way to get along with your husband is just smile, listen to every word with a smile and then just do as you please.”

Robin Hutchins, administrative assistant to NSU President Steve Turner, attended Cox’s funeral in December; saying it was an honor to pay her respect to a stalwart of NSU.

“I am proud to be a part of this institution knowing that it made such an impact on the lives of generations of people so many years ago… I never spoke with Rubye but wish I could have. I feel very strongly that for those that have some history with her are better people for knowing her,” Hutchins said.

The NSU family is proud of its oldest alumna, a woman who recognized the importance of education and bravely pursued it.

“I think we can all find a great deal of inspiration from the amazing life of Rubye Cox. She was one of Northeastern State University’s most loyal and beloved alumna who leaves behind a legacy driven by her faith, her family and her love of teaching and learning. She will be missed by this institution and all who knew her,” Turner said.

Published: 1/5/2016 4:17:58 PM

Go back to News Central