By Ari Pintado
Interviews with Jeannie Lee and Fred Ferguson
Contributions from Cheryl, Elizabeth, and Emily Cox
I remember the first time I was introduced to Greg and Cheryl Cox. It was at a Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce event in early 2005. My then Manager of Wells Fargo, Lourdes Valdez, walked me over and introduced us. As we walked away she said, “Michael, you just met Chula Vista royalty”. Throughout the past 15 years working and networking in Chula Vista I have come to know Greg Cox, and I can honestly say I have not met a public servant more committed to his community, his neighbors, his wife, and his family.
Our Hometown Online is humbled and honored to present a 3-Part series on the life of Greg Cox. Today you’re reading Part 1, a biography of his youth. In Part 2, we will dive into his young adult years and his start into public service. Then in Part 3, we will walk you through his political career and the positive impact on South Bay and our community.
As Chula Vista’s Mayor, President of the California League of Cities, member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, and President of the National Association of Counties, Greg Cox leaves a good impression on almost everyone with whom he comes in contact. Greg’s childhood and early years in Chula Vista helped shape him into the man he is today: honest, kind, thoughtful, and intelligent.
Born at Mercy Hospital in 1948, Greg Cox was the youngest of Sweetwater Union High School District teachers Doris and Gordon Cox’s three children. In 1939, his family purchased a home on Second Avenue and Alvarado Street for $5,000, and later added another bedroom at the same cost after Greg was born.
When Greg’s brother Rob and sister Jeannie entered the F Street School at Fourth Avenue and F Street, now the site of the Chula Vista Library, Doris returned to teaching. When Greg came along, she gathered a group of friends to form the Sitting Hens, a babysitting co-op in which the mothers credited and debited babysitting hours. Among the group were other notable Chula Vista matriarchs Anne Hedenkamp , Helen DeVore, and Dorothy Herney.
As a little boy, Greg’s mischievous side was literally dampened one day by his mom. Greg found some spent cigarette ends in the bushes in front of the house and tried his hand at smoking. Doris knowingly came outside, saw the smoke, called out “Fire!”, and promptly turned the hose on full blast. A soaked Gregory emerged from the bushes and his father Gordon quit smoking right there and then.
Jeannie recalled an early start to Greg sticking to what he believes in. As a child, he was a picky eater, refusing his mother’s insistence that he eat his vegetables. Greg steadfastly sustained his refusal to eat certain veggies and occasionally enlisted Trixie, the family dog, to help him out. As a Home Economics teacher, Doris practiced on her children: a banana a day with blackstrap molasses, for example. To this day, Greg won’t eat banana pudding, banana cream pie, or anything else with a hint of banana.
Jeannie remembered her little brother as somehow always having a bit of luck on his side. On a visit to a relative, toddler Greg climbed into a Jeep, released the brake, and rolled down the driveway. While the Jeep suffered scratches and dents, Greg was unscathed. When their grandmother gave Greg a bag of pennies, he suggested that maybe the bag would contain a coin of value to collectors. As Greg searched the bag, there was a lucky penny – a clear sign of what was to be future success.
Summer vacations often took the young Cox family to San Bernardino County’s Lake Gregory, which Greg assumed had been named for him. He took a liking to the campsite playground’s teeter totter, bumping other children around as his feet hit the ground. His big sister sought to teach him a lesson, catapulting him off the equipment. Greg was laying on the ground with a bloody lip, made even more dramatic by red bubble gum oozing out of his mouth, as a panicked Doris hustled Greg to the emergency clinic. “I learned an important lesson about physics and protecting a little brother,” Jeannie recalls. Greg made the most of the event and convinced his sister to buy popsicles to help him “feel better.”
Road trips were a summer staple when the children were older and the Cox family visited national parks throughout the western United States. A favorite was the Grand Canyon’s Havasupai Indian Reservation, accessible only by horse. Greg was assigned a white horse he named Silver, and he enjoyed racing Silver back and forth on the trail. “I remember our mother being slightly concerned about this activity, but no one was in a position to try and contain it,” Jeannie chuckled. “After all, when you are the Lone Ranger, you just gotta give the horse a chance to do his thing.”
Doris had strong connections with the American Field Service while her children were in high school. The Cox family hosted a number of foreign exchange students, including a boy from Brazil, one from Sweden, and another from Egypt. Later, her interests would include the Lions Club and Friends of Odawara, always exposing her family to different cultures as they grew up, teaching them to be understanding of other ways of life and compassionate to others’ needs. These lessons during Greg’s formative years lay an important foundation for his lifetime of public service.
Close high school and college friend, Fred Ferguson, met Greg as a Chula Vista High sophomore in 1964 and remembered his academic involvement paired with harmless mischief. As a member of the Key Club, Foreign Exchange Club, and Spartan Speakers Greg was active during high school and participated in helping the community. He served on various student and club councils, was an Associated Student Body Commissioner and a member of the California Scholarship Federation.
Every December, Greg and his CVHS classmates went door-to-door to collect food donations for a local charity. The competition among sophomores, juniors, and seniors was the number of cans collected, plus their weight. In a display of strategic thinking, Greg proposed purchasing numerous cans of weighty hominy. The Class of 1966 won the contest each of their three years.
Fred recalled other high school shenanigans with Greg and their friends. “We enjoyed putting on coats and ties and going to the El Cortez Hotel on a Friday night just to people-watch,” he shared. “We even drove over to Las Vegas our Senior year and played the penny slots until we were asked to leave a casino because we were not yet 21.”
Looking for another adventure, Greg and Fred bought a 1947 travel trailer and fixed it up in hopes of making a road-trip to the Grand Canyon. The adventure hit the brakes when they couldn’t find anyone to weld a tow bar on the back of a car. Instead, they went by Volkswagen with two sets of golf clubs and camping gear. A huge rainstorm caused the boys to forego camping to sleep in the cramped car.
Greg and Fred joined Theta Chi Fraternity at San Diego State University. “Greg held the unenviable job of Treasurer,” Fred recalled, which meant it was his responsibility to make sure that all fraternity brothers paid house payments and meal plans on time. Recalling typical antics, Fred reminisced that “one brother with a strange sense of humor paid $500 or $600 in bags of pennies.” Greg dutifully rolled the coins for the bank deposit, all while keeping an eye out for a valuable penny.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Do you have a special memory or story about Greg Cox you would like to share? Submit it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.