|William Shelburne Cox
The Little Professor
By Bonnie Ball
to begin a life story in the middle. However this one starts at the
where the subject was first introduced to the writer.
My own formal
began in a dingy little gray schoolhouse in a crossroads rural
It was well past middle age when it gave way to a new order. To a small
child it was an exciting experience, yet in many ways it was a sad
We carried with us many nostalgic memories - grapevine jumping ropes,
matches, the keen competition among older pupils to win the most
"headmarks" of the term spelling
exciting "exhibition" programs that included graceful drills and
were accompanied by the luminous stage effects of tableau lights,
black-face comedies, dialogs, morning and afternoon re'-cess, sadly
to an end by the clamor of the children
in unison, "Books! Books!"
all-day meetings at the little schoolhouse, with music, speaking, and a
picnic lunch spread out on tables and long desks. As children, we knew
that something important was happening, but its true significance
us at the moment. A number of county and state dignitaries were
There was much discussion among school officials regarding "new
facilities." A definite air of optimism was sensed among the local
happen was the school authorities and interested citizens for miles
were putting their heads together, and good heads they were. In less
a year's time we found ourselves entering a new white frame building
upstairs classrooms, a high school department, piano teacher, and a
room that contained a sliding partition to provide for an extension to
be used as a large auditorium.
schoolhouse was torn down and its materials converted into a school
The old site was turned into an athletic field for baseball and soccer.
On the opposite side of the highway, near the new building were
volley ball and tennis courts. There was even a trapeze.
project was one of expansion which brought gasps from older citizens
happy adventure to the youngsters. It called for funds, and more funds.
Truly it was a man-sized job, and everyone was in for something of a
when the "Little Professor" was seen riding in on his horse from over
He was a small
with impressive eyes and a sparse growth of hairs,that was covered by a
black derby. But the Little Professor made up for the deficiency in
with his ever alert mind and capable hands and feet. He spoke in soft
tones. His public speeches, opening prayers, and announcements were
brief and to the point.
Professor. Patrons and pupils alike enjoyed playing little jokes on
One favorite prank of the high school boys and girls was that of
knocking off the black derby with the volley ball. It was a joke of
school boys that brought my father into the fun.
A few miles
our school rose a tall oblong ridge called the "Buzzard Roost," that
said to be the highest elevation in Lee County. The Professor kept
that a large group of large boys familiar with the ridges take off
some afternoon and escort him to the Buzzard Roost, since it was not
for him to make the hike on weekends.
the gang had at some time visited the Buzzard Roost. However, when
began to overtake them they pretended to be lost. One young fellow
a marsh just to see the Professor splash in behind him.
the Professor's enthusiasm waned. He climbed upon a pair of rails that
lay on top of a low rail fence dozing off to sleep while the boys went
out to "borrow" some soft ears of corn form a new-ground corn patch to
roast in a fire for their supper.
of the feast someone ran into the fence rails and woke the Professor,
joined them in eating roasting ears.
started toward home, wandering about in the dim starlight. Finally they
spied a familiar little Primitive Baptist church, crept inside and
until early dawn, when they headed toward school, reaching the boarding
house just in time for a hearty breakfast.
When my father
of the escapade he decided that it was too good to keep. So he mailed a
written account of the unsuccessful expedition to the Pennington Gap
adding that, if the Professor wished to try another trip to the Buzzard
Roost, it would be well to take along a pair of wooden overshoes.
sent a request to Professor Cox that he select an interesting book from
the school library for him to read. Even though the Professor had
to wreak vengeance upon him for such publicity, he only retaliated by
him a copy of "Peter Rabbit."
It was a real
to be allowed to go to the Professor's room and sign a card for a book
to take home. It was stimulating to march to music each morning into
room where chapel services were conducted, to learn hymns and patriotic
and folk songs. It steadied us to hear the Professor read from the
Bible and offer a quiet but earnest
for daily guidance.
There was a
bell in the tower on the new schoolhouse that could be heard a
It was used to hurry us along and remind us that playtime was over. It
rang promptly at 8:00 a.m. for chapel services and 4:00 p.m. for
We still remember how the Little Professor tolled it gently when two
approached, bearing two black caskets, in which were two members of the
community's only black family. He continued tolling it until the white
procession that followed it passed out of sight. (Both the father and a
daughter has succumbed to a severe measles epidemic).
stayed in the home of my uncle, where he slept in an unheated upstairs
bedroom with an open window all through the winter. School
J. C. Boatwright once laughingly referred to the Professor as a "fresh
air crank." And, indeed he was a stickler for health rules, aw well as
for good English.
had acquired a habit of replying when he failed to understand with the
slang word, "Huh"? Once he used it when replying to the Professor, who
said, "Here you are saying huh again!"
boy in high school for a declamation at the close of school, regardless
of the boys' timidity or speech difficulties. His debating clubs were
anything the little community ever saw before, or afterward. There was
some real talent in his school group, and he lost no opportunity to
use of it. Among those with outstanding talent were the well-known Hall
brothers who were born fifty years too soon, for their performances
have put some of the current country music shows to shame.
faculty included some capable people: the Misses Maude and Darepta
and some excellent music teachers who helped to put our little
on the map. The three and four days of commencement exercises were
by hundreds from long distances, and all this was in the
Cox was born on November 10, 1875 at Jonesville, Virginia - the son of
Nathan and Mary Gobble Cox. His mother died when he was quite young,
his early life was spent in the home of a relative on Wallen's Creek in
Lee County. After his father married a second wife, Bertha Williamson,
he returned to the home near Jonesville, where he grew to adulthood. He
attended school at the old Jonesville Academy. Later he enrolled in
& Henry College where he received his B. S. Degree in 1900.
he returned to the farm.
On July 23,
he married to Miss Ida Mae Roop. They had five children: Mary Ethel,
Roy, William Frederick, Winnie Williamson and Mabel Emeline. At the
of his death, Mr. Cox had twelve grandchildren and ten
(Mrs. Rose Quiullen, whose Pridemore relatives were associated with
Cox, recently wrote a little story of Mr. Cox'ss that she remembered.
he was a small boy the Coxes and Rupes were neighbors. One day his
dressed him a long homespun suit, and took him over to the Rupes' to
their new baby girl. His mother held him up to look at the baby. It
have been love at first sight, for she later became his wife.)
began soon after his graduation from Emory & Henry. He taught
and mathematics at the old Jonesville Institute in 1901 and 1904. He
also a leader in the Uranian Literary Society and debating. He spent
years in the teaching profession, and with the exception of two
years, all were in Lee County. (One
was spent at Portsmouth, Virginia and one at Princeton, West Virginia.)
education never lagged. During his early career he organized and
teacher institutes in which men and women were prepared for the
profession. He initiated the establishment of high schools at
Stickleyville, and other new schools throughout Lee County.
from teaching he kept in close contact with the promotion of education.
He did much writing and carried on correspondence with hundreds of
students, which consumed many hours.
He loved the
and served his Master well throughout his life by teaching and living
principles of Christianity. He served as Sunday School Superintendent,
teacher of Bible class, and in other church offices during the major
of his life. Even though he was unable to attend Sunday
School during his last years, he always
his Bible lesson on the Sabbath.
his 90th birthday Mr. Cox became an associate editor of The Lee County
Sun which was published at Jonesville during the 1960's. In his column
he gave a vivid description of the old Methodist Camp Meeting, near
which he attended all his life. He wrote in detail about the
portions of the old camp meeting site
were still parts of the original structure, and the approximate years
which other features were added. He described the old stone wall that
built in 1886, and
how sections were subsequently removed
make room for additional buildings and features.
In a column
to weather topics he related that he could remember back as far as
when they had 18 inches of snow and the thermometer registered 20
below zero. He added" I have seen snow hang on for two months, but it
seem so cold; and I have trudged to my school for a distance of two
That was before we had good roads, school buses, and limousines. I
remember of ever dismissing school on account of the weather - wet,
hot, or cold."
written following his 90th birthday in 1965. Some of his congratulatory
letters referred to a series of corn huskings at his home one week -
his busy years of teaching. These corn "shuckins" parties were shared
members of Mr. Cox's Bible class. They not only proved helpful to him,
but there was much fun in sharing his responsibility, which was later
with homemade ice cream, pies, cakes, hot coffee, and music.
Then Mr. Cox
the idea of hiding all sorts of articles among the ears of corn. Some
worthless things such as old tin cans and bottles, while there were
apples and a jug of buttermilk. One this occasion almost the entire
class came to husk corn, and there were two freezers of ice cream, and
an abundance of refreshments. The party after the husking was over
interesting that no thought was taken
the time until the mantel clock struck 1:00 a.m.
A small group
lawmen from the St. Charles area had been on a raid near Cumberland Gap
in an effort to snare some booze offenders, but had failed. As they
out on the east end of Jonesville's Main Street they spied a stream of
cars traveling down Highway 58, and decided that this could be their
for a seizure. Watching until all cars turned up the Town Branch Road,
they hurriedly drove down and formed a road block. They proceeded to
the cars for booze. In the darkness they failed to recognize any of the
men until they came to the car of W. L. Davidson and Robert B. Ely, who
assured them that there was no booze in any of the cars, and that all
them were sober.
One of the
had discovered the preacher (R. G. Farmer) with his jug of buttermilk
thought it was booze - until he had sampled it. They were at the point
of making a wholesale arrest, and taking all of them to jail. Having
their mistake, the lawmen went on their way, "whilst the members of our
hilarious party had a good laugh and went home. But it was a long time
before we heard the last of that episode."
life Professor Cox was an outstanding a farmer as he was an educator.
constantly worked to improve the soil, establish orchards and
promote good seeds, and improve cattle herds. His goal was to leave the
world a better place in which to live. He loved people and enjoyed
On July 4th 1968 he spent the day visiting with friends at Cumberland
Park. On July 6th, while writing his diary and the accounts of the
days, he rested his head on his writing table to collect his thoughts.
He entered into "eternal sleep" with his pencil still in his fingers.
heart, tireless energy and utmost integrity remind us of another great
American who "now belongs to the ages." Long live the indomitable
of the "Little Professor," who seldom, if ever, had a superior in
and educational realms of Lee County, Virginia.
of Southwest Virginia, Published by the Historical Society of Southwest
Virginia, Publication 8, June, 1974, pages 47 to 51.