July 14, 2020
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One of the world’s foremost radiation oncologists, James D. Cox ’60 H’97, died on Aug. 14, 2018, in Houston, a month after celebrating his 80th birthday. A leader at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for nearly 30 years, he was internationally acclaimed for his contributions to the treatment of cancer.
“Jim was a brilliant scientist with a caring spirit who impacted the lives of countless patients, friends, and members of the Kenyon community through his professional work, his leadership, and his many quiet acts of kindness,” said President Sean M. Decatur. “As chair of the Student Affairs Committee of the College’s board, he was a thoughtful listener and tireless advocate for the concerns of Kenyon students, especially their health and well-being. We will all miss him.”
Born in Steubenville, Ohio, Cox grew up in West Virginia and Dayton, Ohio, where he graduated from Fairview-White High School. He then entered Kenyon, where he majored in biology, played football and golf, joined Delta Tau Delta fraternity, served as secretary-treasurer of his senior class, and graduated magna cum laude with the Robert Bowen Brown Jr. Prize in biology. At the University of Rochester School of Medicine, he met his first wife while practicing classical piano at a neighboring school. Cox was mentored by pioneering radiation oncologist Juan del Regato at the Penrose Cancer Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A fellowship at the renowned Institut Gustave Roussy in Paris inspired Cox’s abiding passions for France, medieval history and wine. These early years of his career and family life also saw the birth of his children, Valerie, Christoph and Lara.
Cox served in the U.S. Army at Walter Reed Medical Center before beginning his academic career at Georgetown University. In 1973, he was appointed founding director of the Cancer Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he met his second wife, the radiation oncologist Ritsuko Komaki. While chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, he was recruited to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1988 as professor of radiation oncology, physician-in-chief and vice president of patient care, a position he held until 1992. From 1995 until his retirement in 2014, he served as head of the division and chairman of radiation oncology and led the launch of the Proton Therapy Center, which opened in 2006.
Cox traveled widely for work and pleasure, most often to France and Japan or to visit his grandchildren. Remembered as a committed Democrat and an avid sports fan, he treasured his liberal arts education. He demonstrated his gratitude to Kenyon in many ways, including his membership on the Medical Advisory Board and his service, from 1997 to 2013, as a trustee of the College.
“It is unfair — sort of like college rankings — to select a single Kenyon trustee as one’s favorite,” said Robert A. Oden Jr., the College’s president from 1995 to 2002. “But — and there is always a ‘but’ — were I asked to do just this, I would name Dr. Jim Cox. Terrific sense of humor, enthusiastic supporter of Kenyon, nationally prominent oncologist, Jim was simply terrific. Teresa [Johnston Oden] and I always greeted his arrival at Cromwell Cottage for a trustee event with special delight.”
“I loved him,” declared Joseph G. Nelson, the College’s retired vice president for finance. Like a number of people at Kenyon, Nelson developed a close relationship with Jim because of his unfailing generosity with his skills. “Jim not only took care of [my wife] Sally’s brain tumor, but he also cured my own cancer. There was no finer person that God ever put on this planet. He was special, a true blessing to mankind.”
In 2014, the College dedicated its new health and counseling center in Cox’s honor. As chairman of the board’s Student Affairs Committee, he had been a key player in, and a major force behind, the design and construction of the new, state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of Gambier.
Much of the planning for the Cox Health and Counseling Center took place during the presidency (2003-13) of S. Georgia Nugent. “Jim shared his knowledge and his abilities liberally with Kenyon,” she recalled. “Few people know how widely and generously Jim reached out to help members of the College community battling cancer. And how he gave them no less than the gift of life.
“While Jim’s practice involved him in life-and-death matters, he had an amazingly cheerful spirit,” Nugent continued. “When the trustees came to town, it was easy to see that Jim was a favorite among staff members: because he respected them, he cared about them, and he was simply fun to be around.
“Jim Cox saved lives, and he enjoyed life. Kenyon will sorely miss this very special son.”
Cox is survived by his wife, Ritsuko Komaki; a daughter, Lara E. Cox, a psychotherapist; a son, Christoph A. Cox, a philosophy professor at Hampshire College; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Valerie Cox, killed in an automobile accident in 1982.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the James D. Cox Lectureship, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, Texas, 77210‑4486. Donations can also be made online through the M.D. Anderson donation page by specifying the James D. Cox Lectureship at gifts.mdanderson.org.