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
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
matches, the keen competition among older pupils to
win the most
"headmarks" of the term spelling
exciting "exhibition" programs that included graceful
were accompanied by the luminous stage effects of
black-face comedies, dialogs, morning and afternoon
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
us at the moment. A number of county and state
There was much discussion among school officials
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
volley ball and tennis courts. There was even a
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
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
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.
began to overtake them they pretended to be lost.
One young fellow
a marsh just to see the Professor splash in behind
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
sent a request to Professor Cox that he select an
interesting book from
the school library for him to read. Even though the
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
stayed in the home of my uncle, where he slept in an
bedroom with an open window all through the winter.
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
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
use of it. Among those with outstanding talent were
the well-known Hall
brothers who were born fifty years too soon, for
have put some of the current country music shows to
faculty included some capable people: the Misses
Maude and Darepta
and some excellent music teachers who helped to put
on the map. The three and four days of commencement
by hundreds from long distances, and all this was in
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,
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
(Mrs. Rose Quiullen, whose Pridemore relatives were
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
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
teacher institutes in which men and women were
prepared for the
profession. He initiated the establishment of high
Stickleyville, and other new schools throughout Lee
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
teacher of Bible class, and in other church offices
during the major
of his life. Even though he was unable to attend
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
portions of the old camp meeting site
were still parts of the original structure, and the
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
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
remember of ever dismissing school on account of the
weather - wet,
hot, or cold."
written following his 90th birthday in 1965. Some of
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,
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
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
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.