Former Clemson President, Football Player Walter Cox Passes Away

Former Clemson President, Football Player Walter Cox Passes Away

June 29, 2006

A Belton native, the son of Walter T. and Grace Campbell Cox came to Clemson in 1935 as a freshman cadet. Except for a year of military service during World War II, he never left. As a student, he was a company commander in the Cadet Corps, a letterman in the Block “C” Club and an All-State guard on the football team. After graduating in 1939, he stayed on for a year of postgraduate study, during which he anchored the Tiger front line that helped defeat Boston College in the Tigers’ first post-season game, the Jan. 1, 1940, Cotton Bowl.

During the ’40s, he worked for Clemson athletics in a number of capacities — assistant football coach, business manager, baseball coach, recruiter, IPTAY promoter. He even filled in for the boxing coach, who was called into the military, and helped clear land — with handsaws, chains and mules — for the football stadium.

In 1950, Cox became the director of public relations and alumni affairs and assistant to the president. In 1955, he was named vice president for student affairs and took a leadership role in directing Clemson’s transition from military to civilian status.

“Dean Cox,” as he was known to generations of Clemson students, served as vice president for student affairs for three decades. During his tenure, enrollment grew from 2,700 to more than 12,500, and he presided over some of the most important milestones in Clemson’s development into a major university, including the enrollment of women and the peaceful desegregation of the student body. At the request of the Board of Trustees, he left the student affairs post in July 1985 to become Clemson’s 10th president. The third Clemson graduate to be the school’s president, he served until Max Lennon assumed the presidency in March 1986.

Cox once again was called upon to fill a key position temporarily when, from July 1986 until March 1987, he served as vice president for institutional advancement. Although he retired from full-time employment in April 1987, he remained active as a consultant and goodwill ambassador for the university.

Reminders of Dean Cox are all around Clemson University.

He was inducted into Clemson’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Walter T. Cox Jr. Plaza, dedicated in November 1998, occupies a central area on the university’s campus in front of the University Union. Walter T. Cox Boulevard, the portion of S.C. Route 93 that passes through the Clemson University campus, was named for him in June 2002.

The university has established a Web page honoring Cox and his Clemson legacy. For a photo gallery, his life timeline and a guest book to send condolences to the family, visit:

Arrangements for the funeral and burial and the family’s memorial wishes will be posted to the Web page when details are finalized.

Clemson President James F. Barker Remembers Walter Cox

Dear Clemson:

Walter T. Cox, Jr. passed away on Wednesday, June 28, 2006.

The word “legend” is often used too lightly, but every now and then, a man comes along for whom such words are not descriptive enough. Walter Cox was such a man. With the death of the former student, coach, administrator and president who will always be known simply as “Dean Cox,” Clemson University has lost one of its greatest treasures. Walter Cox personified one of Clemson’s core values: the students come first.

As Dean of Students and later as President, Walter Cox helped shepherd Clemson through some of its greatest challenges. He was there when we welcomed women and African Americans to campus. He was there when we made the transition from college to university. He was there whenever we needed someone who could make tough decisions, generate confidence, heal rifts, and build bridges. Whenever Clemson called, he answered.

No one ever loved Clemson more or asked for less in return than Walter Cox.

When I began my service as President I asked Dean Cox to serve on the President’s Cabinet to provide perspective from his 70 years of service to Clemson. Often we reached a point in our deliberations where the challenges looked impossible for Clemson to be successful. At that point Dean Cox’s voice was always clear and strong saying, “We’ve done it before and we will do it again, because Clemson has never been stronger than we are now.” I will always be encouraged by that voice and that message.

Thousands of words will be written about his life, by authors far more skilled than I. Leaders of government, industry and academia will offer tributes. The most meaningful will come from the thousands of former Clemson students — Jim Barker among them — who will simply say, “He changed my life.”


James F. Barker, FAIA President