Walter Thompson Cox

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Walter T. Cox (photo courtesy of Clemson University)

President Emeritus Walter T. Cox (b. September 19, 1918 d. June 28, 2006) was a member of Clemson University's Class of 1939, and was the third alumnus to rise to the status of president (1985-1986). "Dean" Cox served Clemson in almost every role imaginable, from an offensive guard for the football team while a student, to the football team's line coach, from the baseball coach and ticket manager, to an assistant to the president and director of alumni affairs, from dean of students, to vice president for student affairs. Dean Cox devoted his life to Clemson, and even after his retirement was often seen around campus saying hello to fellow Tigers.


Walter Thompson Cox was born September 19, 1918 in Belton, South Carolina, the son of Walter T. and Grace Campbell Cox. He entered Clemson College in the fall of 1935. He served as a company commander in the Cadet Corps, and was an all-state guard on the football team. He graduated with a degree in General Science in 1939. Returning in 1940 during a year of post graduate study, Cox anchored the offensive line while playing for the football team. The season was a success, as Clemson defeated Boston College 6-3 in the Cotton Bowl. It was the Tigers' first post-season appearance.

After serving in the United States Army in the South Pacific theatre during the years 1942-1943, Cox returned to Clemson. During the 1940s he served in a variety of athletic positions including assistant football coach, ticket manager, baseball coach, recruiter and IPTAY promoter. He filled in for the Boxing Coach who was called into the military. He also helped clear land with handsaws, chains and mules for construction of Memorial Stadium. In 1951, he assumed dual responsibilities as Director of Public Relations and Alumni Affairs as well as assistant to President Robert F. Poole. In 1955 Cox was named Dean of Student Affairs (later Vice President for Student Affairs, in 1965), a position at which he served until 1985. At the request of the Board of Trustees, he left the student affairs post in July 1985 to become Clemson's tenth president. He was the third Clemson graduate to assume the school's presidency, serving until Max Lennon took the position in March 1986. Cox served from July 1, 1985 to March 6, 1986, 249 days. On April 5, 1986, the Board of Trustees met to confer the title of president emeritus on Cox. In a certificate of appreciation, board chairman Louis Batson, Jr. wrote:

"During his eight months as Clemson's tenth president, Walter Thompson Cox moved swiftly and decisively and with patient firmness of purpose to restore the confidence of the faculty, staff and student body, to boost the morale of alumni and friends, and to reestablish with the people and leaders of South Carolina Clemson's reputation for high standards and sound management."

Cox officially retired in the spring of 1987, though he continued to be involved in development activities on behalf of Clemson University until his death in 2006.

Dean Cox was dismounting Old Glory at the end of Flag Day on June 14 at his home on Folger Street, when he took a fall that put him in the hospital and began his final decline. Walter Cox passed away on June 28, 2006 in Greenville, and is dearly missed by the entire Clemson family.

Cox was married to former Mary Johnson in 1940. Together they had four children: Walter T. III, Frank, Grace, and William. After Mary Johnson Cox's death in 1985, Walter Cox was remarried to the former Jenelle Garrett Cox in November of 1986.

  • Cox Plaza is named for President Cox and was dedicated on November 20, 1998. A sculpture of Dean Cox sitting on a bench was created by T. J. Dixon and James Nelson.
  • The Clemson Joint City/University Advisory Board presents the Abernathy/Cox One Clemson Awards, given annually to an organization or individual whose accomplishments have served both Clemson University and the city of Clemson and have had a significant influence on both in a single year. It is named for the late Mayor Larry Abernathy and for Dean Cox.

A personal remembrance

When the Clemson Wiki editor, C. Mark Sublette was a freshman in 1974, and did not know any administrators on campus, he missed a deadline for turning in a registration computer card which had a stated late fine of $25. Told that he had to see the Dean of Student Affairs to avoid the penalty, he was directed to Dean Cox's office. Upon first meeting the Dean, Cox arose from his chair, came round his desk, slapped Sublette on the back and said, "Ah knew yore Daddy when he was heah! How is Richard?" After receiving the whole family history up to then, he leaned out his door and said to his secretary, "Will you type up the appropriate form? Ah believe we can waive this fee for Mr. Sublette." That's the kind of man that Dean Cox was.


Wunder, John R., "A Good Sport: Walter Thompson Cox, 1985-1986", McKale, Donald M., editor, "Tradition: A History of the Presidency of Clemson University", Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 1988, ISBN 0-86554-296-1.

Preceded by: Bill Lee Atchley Presidents of Clemson Succeeded by: Max Lennon