Alumni Award Recipient Ronald Vernon Cox
Ronald Vernon Cox '59
2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award Recipient
In 1960, the United States and the Soviet Union were in a heated race for supremacy of the skies high above the Earth's surface. Helping build the American space program in those early days was Ronald Vernon Cox, a 1959 Bridgewater College alumnus.
Mr. Cox, who graduated with a degree in mathematics (but not before marrying classmate Edith Violet Siron), worked as a programmer with IBM at NASA's Space Computing Center in Washington, D.C. His job on Project Vanguard – a program intended to launch the first artificial satellite into Earth’s orbit using a Vanguard rocket – was to program computers that kept track of orbiting satellites.
His job kept him moving from one duty station to another, including Bermuda where he worked on NASA's Mercury Space Program for 18 months. From 1962 to 1963, Mr. Cox was involved in the National Aeronautical Facility Experimental Center, which was an IBM project to test the ability of computers to keep track of airplanes in flight. This was the forerunner of today's Air Traffic Control System.
In Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Mr. Cox spent from 1963-65 writing the first assembler for the then-unannounced IBM 360 Series of computers. He spent the next two years working on IBM's project for the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles that converted licensing renewals from a paper-file recording system to their first computer.
In 1967 Mr. Cox became the IBM systems engineer (SE) for the Shenandoah Valley, working out of his home in Harrisonburg, Va. He helped many Valley business install their first computers and upgrade them when necessary. He received several SE of the Year awards and was selected to attend a number of national SE Symposiums.
In 1975 Mr. Cox graduated from the IBM Systems Research Institute and in 1978 completed the Institute's graduate program. He worked for the company's Academic Information Systems at Virginia Tech and helped the engineering school establish its "every freshman required to get a PC" program. He took advantage of an early retirement incentive in June 1987 at age 49.
The Coxes built a house on Kiawah Island, S.C., and lived there for 20 years – a record for the couple. While there, the Coxes worked as marketing representatives for CMDS (now Jenzabar) in Harrisonburg, demonstrating college administrative software to potential clients.
In 2003, Mr. Cox bought the house on Broad Street in Bridgewater that had been built by his grandfather, remodeled it and, in 2007, sold the Kiawah Island home and moved to Bridgewater.
Mr. Cox is active in the life of Bridgewater College, having established a scholarship fund, served as chairman of the alumni gifts committee, worked on the BC-Rockingham County Business Fund Drive and had his handcrafted wood art the focus of an exhibition in the Cleo Driver Miller Art Gallery.
He has been equally busy in the life of his church. Mr. Cox has served on the executive and search committees for the Richmond Church of the Brethren, worked as board chair and financial secretary for the Harrisonburg Church of the Brethren and participated in a Katrina disaster-relief trip with the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren.
The Coxes have two sons – Barry Cox '85 and Bradley Cox '86 – and four grandchildren, one of whom – Taylor – is a sophomore at Bridgewater.
Bridgewater College Alumni Association presents its 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Ronald Vernon Cox in recognition of his service, leadership and contributions to both his nation and to Bridgewater College.