Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

They met in college at a time of comparative innocence. Father Knows Best was the rage on TV; Ken and Barbie weren’t yet a couple.

The TV show and the famous dolls–one might suggest–were bookends for a real life romance that began 65 years ago on the campus of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.

A 1953 graduate of Fort Worth Poly High School, the former Sue Cherry spread her wings at HSU. She, like millions of others, was caught up in the Father Knows Best series, and she was dead-solid certain that her dad, the late John Cherry, also knew best–usually. A repeated warning she tired of hearing as a college freshman was his “suggestion”–or maybe it was a borderline demand: “Don’t you be dating any of those senior football players.” Uh oh….

Before the end of her freshman year, she and James Cox were campus sweethearts. They qualified as real-life “Ken and Barbie,” except the famous dolls didn’t come along until half-a-dozen years later.


Sue and James Cox

Cox, a football player at Cleburne High School, was a varsity football player at HSU (1954). He and Sue (HSU, 1956) were married 62 years ago on June 16, 1956. Cheering them on were Sue’s parents, whose respect and admiration was earned soon after James and Sue started dating….

And why would her parents approve? He was the gold standard, active in campus life, a leader on the football team and a “sponge” in soaking up the qualities needed by true coaches.

In addition to training for a career in school teaching, Sue was a member of the 1955 homecoming court and was president of the Cowgirls, an athletic cheering group, during her senior year.

And the “school thing” they did long and well, with combined careers totaling 105 years, largely in Fort Worth Public Schools….

The couple retired in 1994, but James responded to a plea to return to teaching “for a year.” They wouldn’t let him go, and the additional year became 14, elevating his total years served to 59.

He was “coach” not only to players, but also to parents, friends and colleagues. It didn’t take long for people who know him to realize he was every bit as committed to “teaching life” as he was to coaching football.

I’ve met no person on life’s highway who has more integrity, dedication, ability and all-around Christian moorings than James. And, when I learned of his 88thbirthday gift a few days back, I knew the account was “column material.”

Sue’s middle name should be “volunteer,” because she has responded to worthwhile causes since her early years. She continues to do so, and for several years has been a volunteer at Harris Methodist Southwest Hospital in Fort Worth.

 In fact, that’s where she was headed the other day when, in a flash, she’d know the perfect birthday gift for her hubby.

 It was right after she realized she’d backed from the garage without benefit of an open door. She “gifted” James with one of his most expensive gifts ever–a new, $1,800 garage door….

The couple has come a long, long way since James signed on to coach six-man football at now-gone London High School in the Hill Country. “There I was, coaching a team without ever having even seen a six-man game,” he said.

Except for a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he “coached,” whether on the football field or in the classroom. He was the first head football coach at Southwest High School upon its opening in 1967. Sue, from the same mold, was a “favorite teacher” for decades. They continue to serve at church, and to cheer on their only child, Kathy, who has a catering business in Fort Worth called “Cherry on Top.”  They cheer every bit as strongly for their grandsons, John Mills, 30, and Cameron, 25.

I join thousands of others expressing gratitude for top-shelf educators…..

Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments or inquiries to: Ph.: 817-447-3872. Web: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.

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