When you think of Aloha Angels, one man comes to mind: Ric Cox.
When you think of a man who overflowed with positive energy and good will, Ric Cox moves to the forefront.
When you think of someone who had drive, passion and commitment, again, it’s Ric Cox.
And when you think of man who made a difference for the youth of Kauai through his laser-focus on improving education, there was Ric Cox.
If you knew him, you were blessed. If you didn’t, you missed out.
Cox, a relentless, eternal optimist who knew how to get things done and would not take no for an answer, a driving force with the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay, died unexpectedly Thursday. He was 72.
It’s been a shocking loss for his friends, who were struggling to come to terms with his sudden death. Cox wasn’t feeling well Thursday after the Rotary Club meeting and drove himself to the hospital, where he passed away.
“He was a great guy, a huge asset to this island, and will be sadly missed,” said Michael Dexter- Smith, a fellow Rotarian.
John Oszust, Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay president, said this about Cox: “Extremely dedicated, extremely motivated, intelligent, well-versed, very precise, well-spoken. When he got ahold of a cause, there was nothing that could stop him.”
And Kurt Last, a friend who was part of Aloha Angels, said this: “He devoted his life to support teachers and in turn, their students. He had a really big heart when it came to teachers.”
Cox was raised in Fairfield, Illinois. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Southern Illinois University and a master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.
For 20 years, he was as an editor at The Reader’s Digest and for 13 years, he was an editor for Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking,” an all-time bestseller. Cox took an early retirement and moved from suburban New York to Chicago, where he spent a decade creating an online database, a business he sold before moving to Kauai in 2011.
Before arriving here, Cox had never personally raised a dollar for charity, but it soon became his passion. He was the driving force behind Aloha Angels, which raised money for teachers on Kauai. The success of the Adopt a Classroom program and Adopt an After- School Club is credited to Cox and his relentless fundraising.
Aloha Angels, of which Cox was president, announced earlier this year that it had passed the $1 million mark in fundraising to benefit Kauai’s teachers and students for classroom supplies and field trips, a milestone it reached in less than four years under the direction of Cox.
“It was successful beyond anybody’s wildest dreams,” Last said. “Shocking success due almost entirely to his nonstop, laser-focus on supporting teaching.”
“It grew and grew, thanks to this one guy,” Dexter-Smith said. “It’s an incredible achievement.”
This year, Cox also announced the opening of an endowed part of the existing donor-advised fund at Hawaii Community Foundation. The ultimate goal is a $25 million endowment. The initial goal is $9 million.
His ambitions for education, Cox once said, were “breathtakingly bold.” He wanted to give away $1 million every year “to create a more perfect Kauai.”
Replacing Cox and all he did with Aloha Angels, said Dexter- Smith, will take a handful of people. No one person could do it. Cox treated it like a full-time job — and never received a penny. It was all volunteer.
“His passion for Aloha Angels was remarkable by any standard,” Last said. “He thought nothing of putting in 70 or 80 hours a week developing programs, finding donors, developing relationships with principals and teachers.”
Cox loved seeing the students using the tools that the teachers were able to buy with the gifts from Aloha Angels, he said.
“It’s a remarkable dedication of effort,” Last said.
Key now is to keep Aloha Angels moving ahead, as Cox would want.
“We just want to make sure it continues,” Last said. “I hope his legacy continues to live on.”
Cox was known for driving people crazy at times, or being “a pain on occasion,” when it came to seeking donations. He was a perfectionist who paid attention to details, which explains his success.
“His intentions were always good,” Dexter-Smith said. “He had a single focus to help schools as much as he possibly could.”
“You just have to take your hat off to him,” Dexter-Smith added. “His heart was always in it. Not for Ric, but for the betterment of the kids and the schools. You couldn’t argue with that.”
Dexter-Smith said keeping Aloha Angels going “is going to be a huge job” without Cox.
“All of us are going to have to pull together to keep it going. It will take two or three of us to piece up the pieces and make up one Ric. We have to keep it all moving forward. I hope we can do him justice.”
Cox believed in education. He wanted youth to have every opportunity to learn, to excel, to be their best. He did all he could to help provide that opportunity.
The impact of Ric Cox on Kauai teachers and students will last a lifetime.
In a previous interview with The Garden Island, Cox was asked what was his reward for all the time and effort he gave to education on Kauai. This was his answer:
“As I walked to my classroom recently, a 10-year-old girl saw me through the shutters of her classroom. She jumped up from her chair, walked outside, smiled, said, ‘Hi, Mr. Ric,’ hugged me, then returned to her desk. That’s what keeps me, and dozens of other volunteers, going. The smiles, affection and gratitude of the people we are proud to serve.”
Ric, you made everyone who knew you proud.