Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Jim Cox a 'true sourdough' and family man


December 8, 2011

At a service Friday for longtime highway resident Jim Cox, son Dan said the 85-year-old retired power lineman cheated death often. "He survived a world war, polio, commercial fishing with a hole in his neck, contact with thousands of volts, a cracked chest, a fall from a power line, Prudhoe Bay at 80 below, a car accident, three separate bouts of cancer, heart attacks, and eight kids."

Cox died in Kent, Wash., Nov. 22 of an aneurysm. He was buried there with military honors at the Tahoma National Cemetery Nov. 28.

Jim and Barbara Cox moved to Haines from Juneau in 1977 and built a home at 25 Mile. Cox was a teenage apprentice lineman in Fairbanks, and neighbor Jim Stanford credited him with getting power out the road when the local electric company said it wouldn’t happen.

"Jim took petitions around and got signatures and convinced Tlingit-Haida to do it," Stanford said. The last place Cox electrified was his own home, his son Dan said.

Cox joined the board of the Tlingit Haida Regional Electrical Authority, which became the Inside Passage Electric Co-op, and served from the early 1990s until his death.

Administrator Jerry Medina said Cox was "the major force" in highway electrification who had a practical and historic knowledge of Alaska power issues and advocated providing power at the lowest cost possible.

Cox also ran a backhoe business, JB and Sons, was active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and supported his wife’s volunteer efforts with the 4-H exhibits for 30 years at the Southeast Alaska State Fair. "Usually where you saw me, you saw Jim," Barbara Cox said.

James Harvey Cox Jr. was born in La Junta, Colo., Sept. 9, 1926 to James Harvey Cox Sr. and Hettie Jane Brink. In 1928 they moved to Fairbanks, where they lived on a farm. "Don’t let anybody tell you we can’t farm in Alaska," said daughter Christy Perkins. "They grew everything they needed to feed their animals and themselves."

His parents split up when Cox was six and he and a brother remained in Fairbanks with his father, a carpenter who also worked for the Palmer pioneer colony.

Cox attended school through eighth grade, worked on the farm and began an apprenticeship installing power lines along the Railbelt. He joined the Navy at 17 and served as radio operator on the USS Bolster, a rescue and salvage ship. He assisted with the cleanup effort in and around Japan after the war.

Cox was stricken with polio at 27. He became sick while painting a house and was told at a hospital he had infantile paralysis, wife Barbara said. "They said he’d probably live a half hour, but he fooled them." Cox lived the rest of his life with a tracheotomy through which he’d sometimes blow smoke rings. He even attempted swimming with a homemade plug in his esophagus.

Cox married Barbara Beatrice Hughes in Seaside, Calif. in 1959. Their combined family eventually grew to eight children. In June 1967 they moved to Wrangell where Cox’s brother ran a cannery, and he became a commercial fisherman. Cox caught and sold crab, shrimp and halibut, first working out of a 16-foot skiff with four of the kids.

"When we got a 35-footer, we thought it was the Queen Mary," Barbara said. They moved to Juneau in 1972 where he continued to fish seasonally and returned to power line work as a foreman on projects in Prudhoe Bay, Juneau, Snettisham and smaller southeast communities. He retired in 1989.

Dan Cox said his father was a true sourdough, but one who placed his family above all. He especially enjoyed his sons’ high school wrestling matches. "He’d be at the side of the mat yelling his head off. It really didn’t seem strange to me at the time that the other kid’s dad wasn’t."

"Jim Cox really was a good-hearted, good-guy. I’m proud to have known him," Jim Stanford said. "What a great life, right?"

Survivors include wife Barbara and children: Christy Perkins of Wasilla; James H. Cox III and Charles Cox of Kent, Wash; Bob Cox and Tom Cox of Juneau; Danny Cox of Logan, Utah; Bonnie Oriet of Sheridan, Wyo., and Scarlett Kalb of Roswell, N.M.. He also is survived by three generations of grandchildren and brother Charles Cox of Montana.