Wayne Cox

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    - Kim St. Michel
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    - DeWayne Bartels
  • "I met Wayne when I was very young at the original Wichita..."
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Cox, Wayne, Long after the noisy wire machines and typewriters fell silent, replaced by computers, Wayne Robert Cox continued to be an institution at The Wichita Eagle. In the fast-paced and ever-changing world of journalism, with employees arriving and quickly moving on, Mr. Cox - a developmentally challenged wisp of a man who worked 45 years as a copy boy - would tell wide-eyed reporters: "I seen 'em come, and I seen 'em go." And indeed, he had. He was the third generation of his family to work for The Eagle and Beacon. And, in 1991, when he retired after 45 years - he did so as one of the last copy boys in the nation. "Wayne Cox was the personification of an era gone by in journalism," said Forrest Gossett, who worked at The Eagle and later became Mr. Cox's guardian and conservator. Mr. Cox died Saturday from complications of pneumonia. He was 85. Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 23, at the Salvation Army Citadel, 1739 Elpyco, with music provided by Richard and Karen Crowson. The service will be officiated by Salvation Army Capt. Dean Towne. Lunch, catered by NuWay - one of Mr. Cox's favorites - will immediately follow in the church fellowship hall. Mr. Cox was born June 25, 1925, in Newton. He technically started working for The Eagle when he was four years old, standing outside the Newton train station where his dad, Hadley Cox, worked hawking the Wichita Evening Eagle. When Marshall Murdock, founding editor of The Eagle was still publisher, Mr. Cox's grandfather, Bill Springborn, was in charge of the news boys at their street stands. Mr. Cox's father worked circulation routes when Murdock's son, Marcellus, ran the paper. When he was 21, Mr. Cox officially began working in The Eagle building. His bicycle paper route had been done away with and he was without a job. He asked Marcellus Murdock, "What am I going to do?" Murdock hired him full-time as a copy boy. In the old newsroom, an editor would yell "Copy Boy" and it was Mr. Cox's job to dash the typewritten copy from the newsroom down a flight of stairs to the composing room, where the newspaper was laid out; he would then grab proofs of pages and bring them back up to the newsroom where they were given a last look before being printed. As technology developed, a buzzer would sound to let him know when machines needed servicing in the wire room. He would change the ribbons in typewriters and drive to City Hall to pick up reports. "He was a person of routine and that's why he was such a good copy boy," Gossett said. "I met Wayne on May 14, 1984 - my first day. I was sitting at my desk, which was right in front of the AP photo machine, and Wayne walked over and introduced himself by saying, 'It's getting hot out there. I am Wayne. You must be Forrest.' " His lifestyle was simple. His manner of speech was a cross between the gruffness of Billy Bob Thornton's "Sling Blade" and the matter-of-factness of Tom Hanks' "Forrest Gump." He'd talk to himself and was a virtual thermometer, letting people know the temperature outside, asking if they were "Doin' any good?" letting them know when it was pay day and what he did on his vacations. He loved Chevys, pumpkin pie and old episodes of "Gunsmoke." It was part of Eagle lore that the only person who had permanent job security was Mr. Cox; the Murdock family had insisted his job remain guaranteed as part of the agreement when it sold The Eagle. It was also said that for years the only three people entrusted with the key to the publisher's office were the publisher, the head of maintenance and Mr. Cox. "I could always tell when somebody new would come to The Eagle how long they would last by how nice they were to Wayne," said Peggy Smith, a friend and colleague of Mr. Cox. "If they didn't pay attention to him, they were not long for this world." In 1965, Mr. Cox turned into an overnight celebrity when he spotted the car of bank robber and killer Duane Pope - in The Eagle's parking lot. At the time, there was a national search for Pope and the car, a black 1939 Buick convertible with a white top. "Wayne knew every model of car and would stare out the window and identify cars," said Fran Kentling, a retired administrative editor at the paper. "He came in and said, 'I seen that car.' Someone said, 'What car?' Wayne said, 'That car. That car everybody is looking for.' " Eventually, somebody went out with him and it was Duane Pope's car. That was the highlight in Wayne's life for many, many years." A photo of Mr. Cox pointing to the car was splashed on nearly every paper in the nation. He was later commended by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. When Mr. Cox retired from The Eagle on June 28, 1991, columnist Bob Getz wrote: "Never had I seen this newspaper's main conference room so crowded, so full. So full of people. So full of affection. People of all sizes, shapes, positions and dispositions, people from every level, department, floor, executive nook and mail room cranny." At first, Mr. Cox did not fare well in retirement. He became the victim of people taking advantage of him - financially, physically and emotionally. It was a Wichita community of good Samaritans who eventually saved him. The Kansas Department of Social Rehabilitation Services stepped in. The Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch law firm volunteered dozens of hours to give him the opportunity to live on his own. And when it got to the point he needed assistance in making sure he took medication and made his doctor's appointments on time, he was one of the first people enrolled in Via Christi's Hope program; and then, into the Via Christi's Hope Health Center, where he lived out his final days. "It was a village that cared for him," Gossett said. "Anyone who treated and cared for him came away loving him. He represents so much of the newspaper and what the community did to step up and make sure - this one person - had a quality life." Mr. Cox has no survivors. In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established in Mr. Cox's name with the Salvation Army Citadel, 1739 Elpyco, Wichita, KS 67218.
Published in The Wichita Eagle on Apr. 20, 2011
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