Think for a minute about who in your life has touched you.
Someone who has lit up your life. Someone who has changed it forever.
For many of us, that list is a short one.
Among the lucky, they met, knew and loved Fred Cox.
Fred Cox Jr. was only 27 years old when he died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Working as an investment banker at Sandler O'Neill & Partners, Fred had talked and perhaps charmed his way into a job he loved. He worked on the 104th floor of Tower 2.
He was known to have called the World Trade Center towers "his twin girls" and loved his adopted city of New York.
Like the Towers, Fred Cox was as big as life, and will never be forgotten among the friends and family he left behind who live in his other hometowns -- in Georgia, where he was born, in Phoenix, Arizona, where he moved when he was 14 to live with his father, and New Hampshire, a favorite family spot.
All of those who I talked to while researching Fred's life for today's remembrance have a million ways to describe him -- just a few were giving, caring, devoted son, friend and love.
And his no-holds-barred approach to life was infectious.
As I began to put together the various pieces of information I could get from Fred's life off the Internet and from friends, I realized the best way to honor Fred would be to simply share Fred with the world through the eyes of those who knew him best, at least as many as I could find in these past few weeks.
One of his best friends, John Sebald wrote me after I asked his friends to tell me a bit about Fred. In an e-mail to John, I wrote that from what I was gathering, Fred was quite a character, which would prove to be an understatement of proportions as big as Fred's life was.
John wrote back "Fred was the epitome of one who took everything he could from life. All those who surrounded him -- family and friends -- went along for that ride, and quickly gained a deeper appreciation for life and all it has to offer."
John said he met Fred his freshman year in high school. "He sat behind me in my English class and consistently tried to copy off my tests. I didn't think much of him as he was a tall, gangly, skinny guy with funny hair. He had just moved to Arizona from Georgia, and didn't have many friends. He tried relentlessly to befriend me, but was such a pest that I didn't want anything to do with him."
"I finally gave in, had a serious conversation with him, and found out what a terrific guy he was. We had so much in common, and he seemed almost like a long lost brother."
Aaron Kuhl, another friend of Fred's, said "No one was more sincere than Fred. One of the most memorable ways he expressed that was in his bear hugs. If you'd extend your hand, he'd bring you in for a bear hug. This was sincere love."
Aaron also gave me some insight into Fred's precociousness, charm, and generosity.
"In college when Fred and I went to sell books in Georgia, after a few days in the car and a few days in a Motel 6, Fred found a mansion for us to live in for $10 a week. One morning he was messing around and ran over my bicycle. A few days later, he replaced it with a 1967 Cadillac Limousine at no charge to either of us. It was unbelievable, but just like Fred."
Fred would often get people to do things for him and his friends that no one else could have done. "After we missed our flight to Cabo, Fred arranged for a tour of Mexico with a stop in Mazatlan and a flight connecting to Cabo for us a few days later at no additional charge. He brought Lance, Brian and I along for the ride," Aaron wrote. "And last year at my wedding (in 2000), Fred had the bellhop give him a ride on the luggage cart to his room. The stories will last a lifetime."
For Heather MacLean, her life changed when she met the love of her life, Fred at a high school football game.
As a freshman at an all-girls school who had never dated a boy before, Heather was at her first high school football game the night she met Fred.
"One of the few older boys I knew from the all-boys school next door called my name so he could introduce me to someone inquiring. "Heather this is Fred. Fred, this is Heather," and that was the very moment my life changed forever. He was larger than life from the moment I met him to the last telephone call I had with him on 9/9/01. He stood 6 foot 5 inches tall, had the most mesmerizing beautiful green eyes that you would ever want to see, the darkest of brown hair, the most genuine of smiles, and the character that would match a king."
She said Fred never did anything average or normal. Everything he did had to be better than exceptional, and he strove to be a perfectionist. "From being the best son...the best friend, the best listener, to giving the best honesty, to be the best partier, best boyfriend, to sending the best flowers and finding the best maple fudge..." Heather's list of Fred's bests goes on. "He not only longed to be the best...he was just that...the best."
In 2000, Heather was with Fred when they found a sign while visiting his favorite place in the world where his family had a summer home in New Hampshire. The sign said Do What You Love. Love What You Do. Heather said that little did she know while they hammered that sign on that amazing tree that the quote would be forever synonymous with everything Fred did and lived by.
Heather's Mom, Barbara MacLean, also wrote me an e-mail about her "son" Fred.
"The first day he came into my kitchen he called me Mom", she wrote. "Every time he came home from New York he came to visit and would always say 'Mom, play Amazing Grace for me.' We would go to the piano, and he would sing all the verses."
On New Year's Eve, Barbara MacLean remembers how handsome Fred looked as they got ready for a party. She remembers how he loved the gift of a white terry cloth robe Heather had given him and how he put it on over his clothes and wore it all over the house.
Just a day before 9/11 happened, Fred called Barbara to talk to her as she was enroute to her sister's funeral. "He said 'I wish I was there to put my arms around you during this sad time,'" and she said his just saying that helped her feel his arms around her.
"How could I have known that the next day, he would be gone. Why did his final words to me end with "Do you know how much I love you and Lee Lee?" (Heather's nickname).
This final photo I found among the memorial photos posted by family and friends on tribute boards for Fred following the 9/11 attacks. It's one of his nephew on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. As I look at this photo, I think of the profound loss of Fred and the 2,995 others who were lost that day, and wonder about the legacy and memories that each of us leaves behind.
The hard part about learning about someone as wonderful as Fred is realizing that I will never meet him because of that awful September day that is burned into each of our collective memories.
But for those who lost Fred that day, 9/11 isn't just a national event of losing people in general, but it is a day that they lost their friend, son, and love.
I think it's important to share the day of the loss of Fred in the words of his friends because it's a testament not only to the profound sense of loss for all the people who died, but a memorial to the fact that we each go on after a loss and grieve in different ways. It's not pleasant or easy, but the important thing is that we do go on, if for no other reason than to honor those we have lost.
Heather wrote to me "Everything I thought would be in my life forever, changed forever, with a glance to a television 5 years ago. It is a loss so deep that words can't even come close to expressing the significance of my world's loss that day. To lose someone that you love so publicly, makes the healing process almost impossible...It shows its horrifying face when you are watching the news, seeing a movie, reading a paper or a magazine. It comes up in dinner conversations and is forwarded to you in e-mails. That deep, all-consuming, soul-filling grief is felt each time I hear or see anything that has to do with that disastrous day, immediately takes me back to the morning of 9/11/01."
"I was so blessed to be given 10 years with someone so unmatchable in my life, and I continue to be blessed; I have the very best guardian angel walking by my side, every step of the way...while on this earth and after," Heather said.
For John, he wrote that he often wonders what Fred was thinking when he knew he wouldn't make it out of the towers, or was there even time to think about that?
"Unfortunately over the years we had seen a lot of tragedy with the loss of some close friends, and we had actually talked about death," John said. "I grieved for Fred as anyone would, and as many did. I still miss him and get a little sad, but at the same time I smile and chuckle every time I think of him. That might sound a little weird, but if you knew him, you would understand."
Fred's lessons for John didn't end with his death, John said. "I think I was stuck in cruise control until I met Fred. I gained a greater realization that I was missing out on a lot in life. After Fred passed away, I feel I finally realized many of the secrets to life. It was as if my eyes had finally opened. Fred had been teaching me the whole time to fully live and appreciate life; and I finally got it after he was gone."
Barbara, Heather's Mom, wrote:
"I will hold in my heart his boy-like giggle, his asking for me to play one more time "his" song, his twinkling green eyes, his patting the pillow and saying "come over here and sit by me, Mom", Barbara wrote. "I look at that seat where he sat and feel his long lanky arm around me still. He and I were buddies and I will forever miss him and forever love him. He was bigger than life. A life that can't be snuffed out, as his spirit shines on in all who loved and knew him."
A note from Jules of PlanetJules: This tribute to Fred Cox started because a friend told me about a massive project by bloggers to honor each of those lost on 9/11 with an individual tributed -- called 2,996 -- and that she was disappointed because as of that day, her friend Fred Cox had yet to be assigned someone to honor him.
My only aim initially was to help a friend by signing up for this project, and to specifically choose Fred so my friend's pain would be somehow comforted by knowing he was not forgotten.
But what I got back was so much more. It is an honor to take the time to get to know someone like Fred, and to try and do justice and honor a man who so many people loved, adored, respected and ultimately lost, but whose character lives on in the hearts of many.
For a full listing of the blogs honoring all 2,996 of those lost on 9/11, go to http://www.dcroe.com/2996/or click on the title of this post.
Here are some additional links to sites to learn more about Fred:
From The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/23/national/portraits/
The New York Times Memorial Page: http://www.legacy.com/nytimes/GB/GuestbookView
Fred's Memorial on The Fred Society website, of which he was a member:
Also, a scholarship fund has been set up for the memory of Fred at the University of Arizona, where Fred graduated:
Fred Cox, Jr. Scholarship Fund
Karl Eller Center, Berger Entrepreneurship Program
McClelland Hall, Room 202
1130 East Helen
P. O. Box 210108
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
Thanks to all of Fred's friends who took the time to help me write this tribute, who were willing to go back to that dark day to remember someone so wonderful. All of Fred's friends and family will be in my thoughts and prayers for their continued healing.