Gordon Cox ’59: Lucky In Life (and Fly Fishing!)

From the University of Michigan to the New York University-Bellevue School of Medicine to the Army Reserve, Brother Gordon Cox ’59 has surely had a lifetime of experiences. In his own words, Gordon takes us through his journey from attending U of M to his time in Delta Chi to what he’s been up to lately with his wife, Dodie, and their children.

 It’s been 56 years since the good old days at Delta Chi and the University of Michigan. Where did the time go? The inertia has been great since Keith Hellems ’62 contacted me about writing something up about my time at Delta Chi. The efforts of the fundraising team for the new Delta Chi chapter house at the University of Michigan have brought back a lot of memories for me. I’ll try to recollect and fill in some of the blanks about college days and what has happened to me since.

I have been lucky in life, picking the right parents and having a great family and friends to help along the way. I was born in western Montana when my father, Herald R. Cox, D.Sc., was a virologist at the U.S. Public Health Research Laboratory in Hamilton, Mont., working to develop a vaccine for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. His success in developing an effective vaccine for prevention of this disease led to the family moving to Suffern, N.Y., where he became director of virology at Lederle Laboratories, making Typhus vaccine for the Allied Forces during World War II. I was exposed to medical lingo and the principles of medical research during my formative years as the research team at Lederle developed a variety of vaccines for veterinarian medicine as well as the oral polio vaccine. We spent family vacations traveling to Montana, which led to my life-long desire to live in Montana and also my addiction to fly fishing.

My experience at the University of Michigan was not typical for most students at the U of M. After an undistinguished performance at Suffern High School, I was admitted to the Forestry School at Michigan along with about 20 other freshmen. After realizing that I couldn’t tell the difference between a pine tree and an oak tree at the Michigan Arboretum, I transferred to Literature, Science and the Arts (LS&A) my sophomore year. I pledged Delta Chi during the spring rush of 1957. My first contact with Delta Chi was when I met Bill Thewalt ’58 who greeted me on the porch of the Delta Chi house by saying “Bill Thewalt’s my name,”  looking sharp in his three-piece suit and tie, which made a great and lasting impression on me! Norm Krecke ’60 was the man in charge of our pledge class, which, as I remember, included Gary Brasseur ’59, Dan French ’59, George Robertson ’59 and probably others. Norm did a lot of work teaching us the lore and expectations of what it is to be a Delta Chi. Norm had many talents and organized our men’s glee club when we performed at Hill Auditorium during Greek Week sponsored by the Interfraternity Council.

I only lived in the chapter house for the fall/winter of my junior year, but I sure remember the shock that traveled through the house when the Russians launched Sputnik I. For some reason, Don Trim ’59, Fred Jackson ’59 and Bob Miller ’59 asked me to join them in living in an apartment house at 1450 Washington Heights across the street from Alice Lloyd residence hall. These guys were all serious engineering students (Don – civil engineering, Fred – aeronautical engineering, and Bob – mechanical engineering) who were focused on their future career plans. I was just the opposite; having not declared major, I just took courses that might be interesting. I always had an interest in science, so I took mostly zoology and chemistry courses mixed in with some anthropology and sociology courses. Anyway, we got along great as roommates and were later joined by Tom Michalski ’56 as a fifth roommate when he was in graduate school for city planning. We usually went to the chapter house for dinner where Don loved to play bridge with the other brothers. Bill Fors ’59 was chapter president at the time and really put in a lot of time and effort for the benefit of all of us.

Among the most memorable experiences was a road trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., during spring break 1957. I drove my 1951 Mercury sedan along with Gary Brasseur, and I think George Robertson and Dan French. We met up with Charlie Waite ’59 in Fort Lauderdale. Charlie was dating Pam Gerber of Gerber Baby foods at the time and was “socially polished” beyond his years. I thought he had it made! Anyway, Charlie thought it would be a good idea to go to the Michigan Student Health to find out about sunscreen protection from the Florida sun (this was way before the time of sunscreen lotions). We got a supply of some experimental pills that some doc developed along with his studies of melanoma that might protect us from the sun’s rays, which they were glad to have us try. We got down to Fort Lauderdale in the middle of the night on Easter Sunday morning and camped out on the beach in our sleeping bags and were woken up by an Easter Sunrise Church service and windblown jellyfish. We joined the college spring break crowd for some serious beer drinking and sun tanning. Gary fell asleep on the beach on the first day and developed a third-degree sun burn that resulted in a visit to the doctor followed by systemic steroids and ice tea baths for the duration of spring break. Weeks later after complete delamination of his sun-burned skin, he had a beautiful tan.

I wasn’t much of a student at Michigan. I had a bad habit of taking a nap in Oggie’s (Bob Ogburn ’59) room after lunch at the chapter house, which resulted in missing a lot of organic chemistry labs. I spent Easter break that year in the organic chemistry lab making up for lost time. I also spent way too much time at the Pretzel Bell and going to Ypsilanti for a “whiskey and squirt” after the bars closed in Ann Arbor with Bill Gaasch ’59, a good friend of Gary Brasseur. I am amazed at how well my friends and brothers in Delta Chi “turned out” after all the “fooling around” we did in our college years. Gaasch, for example, is a professor of medicine at Tufts University. Anyway, my roommates, Don, Fred and Bob were/are great guys, and some of their work ethic might have rubbed off on me. I graduated in spring ’59 with a BS in zoology (I don’t think they offer a degree in zoology anymore).

After some “pull from my Dad” and with his connections with the scientific community, I was admitted to New York University-Bellevue School of Medicine. It also helped to have a letter of recommendation from Donald Glaser, Ph.D., who was a professor of physics at Michigan and was my section leader during my sophomore physics class. Dr. Glaser received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1960 for the invention of the bubble chamber in 1952 (the bubble chamber is used for experiments in high-energy nuclear physics). Medical school was a great experience for me. NYU is an academically research-orientated medical school with a world-class teaching hospital. My fellow students were highly motivated, competitive, hard-working people. It was an “eye-opening” experience for me. I finally got my act together and made learning a lifelong endeavor. NYU was at the forefront of immunology at that time. There were great role models in teaching both in academics and clinical care. I was lucky to have as teachers two additional professors who would receive the Nobel Prize. Severo Ochoa, MD, Professor of Biochemistry, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1959 for his work on the synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid. Baruj Benacerraf, MD, Professor of Pathology, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1980 for his work on the genetics of cell membranes that regulate immunologic reactions. I made some good friends at medical school and received my MD in 1963.

After graduation, I spent five enjoyable years at the University of Wisconsin located in beautiful Madison. Madison is the state capital but with a small town “Big Ten” university atmosphere. My internship was mixed medical followed by residency in anatomic and clinical pathology. The University of Wisconsin and University Hospital was a great transition from the big-city medicine of New York City. I married Dolores (Dodie) Amundson, RN, in 1964. We have three children: Sara Khosla, BS, MS (U. of Wisconsin); Andrew Cox, BS (Johns Hopkins), MD (U. of Oregon); and Jennifer Cox, BS (U. of Oregon).

I did my military duty in the Army Reserve as part of the 44th General Hospital based at the University of Wisconsin. This was a good experience for me with all the benefits of serving in an Army general hospital whose commanding officers were senior faculty at the medical center.

We moved to Billings, Mont., in 1968 when I joined the Billings Clinic. Billings is a pee-wee Denver, the largest city in Montana and far enough away from other metropolitan areas that it serves as a tertiary medical care center. Billings Clinic was a great place to practice general pathology. The busy surgical pathology practice involved everything from brain biopsies to renal biopsies. The demands of a multi-specialty group practice required developing a modern clinical laboratory. I was also involved with the College of American Pathologists laboratory inspection and accreditation program and served as state commissioner for Idaho and Montana. I really enjoyed my work and retired in 2005, leaving the department in better shape than when I started. Billings Clinic has evolved from a clinic partnership into a community-owned health care organization with over 240 physicians in 46 different specialties.

Dodie and I have always enjoyed international travel. We’ve been pretty much everywhere. We went  together with Fred Jackson ‘59 and his wife, Mary Jo, to Papua New Guinea in 2011 to see the “sing-sings” which are tribal celebrations sponsored by the government in an attempt to prevent tribal warfare during the time of the performances. We both enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the close proximity of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been a serious fly fisherman forever and fished most of the good places: Christmas Island (Kiribati), Kamchatka, Alaska, Tierra Del Fuego and the South Island of New Zealand are my favorites.

I am most proud of the accomplishments of the young men I was privileged to know as brothers in Delta Chi. The quality of the young men who are recruited by the fraternity at the University of Michigan exemplify the best of Delta Chi. 

Yours in the bond,

Gordon L Cox

3209 Rockwood Circle
Billings, Montana 59102
Email: [email protected]