Malden Memory Makers: Ron Cox stands up for history from a young age

In May 2020, Malden Reads planned to host the Malden Mass. Memories Road Show (MMRS), a statewide, event-based participatory archiving program that documents people, places, and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories stored in a digital archive

Due to the pandemic, the in-person event could not be held and so, this summer, the MMRS team invited anyone with a Malden connection to contribute photographs and stories online as part of the Malden Mass. Memories Stuck-at-Home Show. Through December, you can take part in the online version and submit your own photos via this link.

The following is part of a series of participant profiles for the Malden Mass. Memories Stuck-at-Home Show for Neighborhood View. This is the second profile in the series.  

By Marielle A. Gutierrez

If you are reading Neighborhood View, you may already know the name of Ron Cox. 

Cox has been a long affiliate of UMA, formerly MATV, starting as a volunteer in 1989. In 2006, he became the organization’s Executive Director in 2006, a title he holds to this day. As Executive Director, Ron enjoys sharing stories of community members via video and television. Recently, he shared a few of his own stories through his participation in the Mass. Memories Road Show. Four stories showcase the richness of Ron’s life—as well as his skills as a storyteller.

Visit to Plymouth Rock 

Growing up in Malden, Ron fondly remembers taking many trips with his family in the family station wagon. One day in 1956, his father told him and his three siblings they were going to Plymouth (later, two more children would be welcomed to the Cox family). The Coxes wanted their children to visit and experience something historical every year. Ron was excited to see the place where the Pilgrims docked in 1620. Little did Ron know that he would be in for a huge disappointment. 

“Visiting Plymouth,” 1956. Pictured: Ron Cox (tallest child, on left) with his siblings and parents, Fred W. Cox, Jr. and Gertrude Cox. View this photo in the Mass. Memories Road Show collection

Plymouth, at the time, did not have much to offer visitors. Ron  laughingly recalled his experience of seeing the famous Plymouth Rock in the Plymouth Town Square.  “A huge building covers the monument, and you see this little rock and you go, ‘Really? Really? That’s it?’” His disappointment stemmed from his already burgeoning love for history. He wanted to learn and analyze the past, and a “little rock” did not cut it.  

Duck and Cover Drills

In the late 1950s or early 1960s, when Ron was in elementary school, his teacher started off the school year with roll call. His teacher called, “Ronald Cox?” He replied that he was present. Right when his teacher was going to call the next student’s name, Ron’s hand shot up. He remembers saying, “Well, I don’t like the name Ronald. Can you call me Ron?” His teacher immediately agreed to his request. Ron was amazed. That day he learned to speak up and ask questions.

Ron went to primary school during politically tumultuous times. The Cold War was raging, and everyone feared atomic warfare. Because of this fear, “Duck and Cover” drills were implemented in schools all over the United States. One day at Ron’s school they had a Duck and Cover drill. The alarm went off and all of the students were supposed to get under their desks and hold books over their heads. Ron resisted following this drill. A day earlier he had watched a segment on the news discussing the aftereffects bombs would have on cities—where people would essentially become vaporized. With this fact in mind the drill seemed futile. 

Ron’s teacher asked why he was not getting under his desk. “Well, I saw this thing on TV last night, and being under our desks isn’t going to save us,” Ron replied. “We’re going to be toast if this actually happens!” His teacher ended the discussion by saying, “Ron we need to talk about this after class.” When they met after class Ron’s teacher explained that he was scaring the other students. But Ron was insistent that the whole drill was absurd and continued to question the process. 

“Ron (on Left) Outside of Lincoln Junior High School,” 1963. Pictured: Ron Cox, Pamela Tamburello and Barbara Berger.

Eighth Grade Science Fair

In the early 1960s, when Ron was in the 8th grade at Lincoln Junior High School, the school held a mandatory science fair.  Ron waited until the last minute to begin his project. He looked all over his house for spherical objects of various sizes to construct a model of our solar system. He finished his project with a lumpy, hastily made papier-mâché moon. The day of the fair, Ron overheard his teachers, Ms. Howard and Mr. Scannell talking about his project, specifically the moon. They said, “Oh, look at this! It’s kind of off-kilter; it’s not perfectly round, like the real moon isn’t perfectly round.” Ron repeated those words back to them when it was his turn to present his project.

He received the first-place award. And detention. Every student had assigned seating with their homeroom. And on that day Ron decided to sit with his friend, who was not in his homeroom. They called out his name for the reward during the school’s assembly. Everyone turned and began looking for him. Realizing that there was no way to get out of this, Ron slowly stood up to collect his award and his punishment. He laughingly ended his story with, “It didn’t really help me in school [receiving first place] because it made me realize ‘Oh I can wait until the last moment for everything!’ That’s why I went into video production. Everything is last minute.”

“Ron as Member of Malden Militia for Bicentennial,” 1975. View this photo in the Mass. Memories Road Show collection.

Member of Malden Militia for the Bicentennial

Ron’s love for history continued through his young adult years. In the early 1970s, Ron learned that the United States Bicentennial would be commemorated beginning in 1975. To recognize this momentous time in the country’s early history, Malden organized a reenactment of the various battles fought during the Revolutionary War. The city of Malden needed numerous volunteers to be reenactors. Ron was one of the first people to sign-up. To him, becoming a member of the Malden Militia was an experience of a lifetime. Ron made his own costume out of cotton clothes and he was given a real musket (with a real bayonet) to shoot in order to recreate the Battle of Bunker Hill. 

Ron vividly remembers how the reenactment took place. Men were running all over, up and down the fields. Smoke was blowing and men were “firing” their weapons. At that moment Ron remembered he was one of the Minutemen, and that they lost that battle to the British. He saw a man running towards him and remembered thinking, “Oh my God. He’s going to kill me!” Ron recalled, “It looked and felt too real. This was the closest I ever came to a real war.”

Ron and UMA/MATV has played a role in Mass. Memories Road Show to encourage community members to share their stories. “People should get involved with the Road Show for so many reasons, but basically it’s the idea of people telling their stories,” Ron said. “I really believe America is made up of all these wonderful individuals that have great stories. And the more we hear the stories the more we get connected.”

See the first profile in the series – on Birukti Tsige .  You can participate with your own photos for the Mass. Memories Stuck-at-Home Show at this link.

As soon as it is safe to do so, the MMRS will visit Malden to collect more materials at a live, in-person event. The program is produced by University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston.

Marielle A. Guttierez is a student at UMass Boston and a contributor to Neighborhood View.

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