Los Banos leaders and community members this week are mourning the death of one of the city's most venerated icons.
Joe Cox, a 92-year-old Los Banos resident who was an advocate of schools, veterans and local and regional interests, died Monday night after he was involved in a car crash south of Chowchilla, according to California Highway Patrol.
"It's going to be a great loss to the community of Los Banos," said Mike Hughes, a former Los Banos police chief who has known Cox since the early 70s.
Cox was a farmer, veteran, teacher, principal and he has served on a variety of local community organizations, according to a biography on his website, drjoecox.com.
Cox grew up in Arkansas and moved to Reedley, and then Parlier when he was young. He graduated Parlier High School in 1944 and enlisted with the U.S. Navy during World War II, performing radio and submarine work.
After the war, he returned to the Central Valley as a farmer before pursuing college. While studying, he was called up to active duty during the Korean War, assigned to a destroyer.
Cox returned to college and was offered a job teaching agriculture science at Los Banos High School. He took it, and eventually became a department chair, assistant principal and then principal of the high school and Los Banos Junior High School.
Cox retired from the school district in 1988 and ran for the school board. He was elected and served 12 years on the board.
In retirement, he served in community leadership positions including district governor of Rotary, president of Golden Agers, California Seniors Legislature chair and national president of the United States Submarine Veterans, according to the biography.
"He was always concerned about doing good things for other people," Hughes said. "He wasn't concerned about himself."
Hughes, a commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Los Banos, said Cox made major contributions toward the memory of submarine veterans.
Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta said he has had a 60-year friendship with Cox.
"I'm deeply saddened by his untimely passing," Villalta said. "I am most appreciative of his mentoring during our careers together at the Los Banos Unified School District. He will be missed."
LBUSD Superintendent Mark Marshall issued a statement Wednesday morning about Cox's contribution to local education for 50 years, which also included serving as a FFA teacher.
Marshall called Cox "a true Los Banos treasure," and said he was "an inspiration and a strong force."
Cox was driving a 2009 Honda sedan west on Highway 152 Monday when he crashed into the rear-end of a tractor-trailer heading the same direction at 7:25 p.m., according to CHP.
The Honda spun around after the impact and stopped in the fast lane where it was struck by a Dodge sedan, officers said.
The driver of the Dodge, 37-year-old Chowchilla resident Michael Cox, saw the Honda but was unable to stop in time. Neither drugs nor alcohol appear to have been factors, according to CHP.
Joe Cox was found outside his vehicle when first responders arrived, officers said. It wasn't clear Wednesday if the two drivers were related.
Cox has written a book on his life titled "The Life Story of WWII Submariner Joseph A. Cox."