Cox grew up in Kauai, where he swam in the Pacific Ocean and watched his father work as an engineer on a sugar plantation. “Water supply is the most important thing on a sugar plantation,” Cox says. “As the plantations developed, growers had to figure out how to expand while still protecting the islands’ natural resources.”
Cox decided early on that he would follow in his father’s footsteps, so when it came time for him to pick a college after graduating from the prestigious Punahou School in Honolulu, Caltech was his first choice.
“Even in Hawaii, Caltech’s reputation as a great engineering school was known,” Cox says.
At Caltech, Cox was able to combine his two passions by majoring in civil engineering and competing in swimming and water polo. One of the things he is most grateful for, he says, is the opportunity to attend Caltech.
After graduating, Cox was in charge of Caltech’s rocket-testing research at the Goldstone Range in the Mojave Desert throughout World War II (see sketch below). He came back to Caltech for a graduate degree and later returned to Kauai, where he realized his ambition of working as a civil engineer on sugar plantations. He went on to rise to the position of vice president at Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., which operates sugar cane, diversified agriculture, and other business enterprises in Hawaii. Cox also is a past president of the Hawaii Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Through the years, Cox’s connection to his alma mater has remained strong. As a member of the Caltech Alumni Association and Torchbearers Legacy Society, he enjoys returning to campus. In May 2017, he attended his 75th class reunion. He is a generous donor as well, focusing his philanthropy over the past decade on Caltech’s programs in global environmental science.
Cox’s support of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign includes gifts to endow a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) as well as the Richard H. Cox Graduate Fellowship. He also contributed funds to rehabilitate a crucial piece of equipment in the university’s Environmental Analysis Center that is aiding research by faculty and students across campus.
Most recently, Cox provided resources for new assistant professor Jörn Callies—a gift that was matched by The Ronald and Maxine Linde Challenge for Climate Science. Callies is a physical oceanographer—as was Cox’s brother, Charles “Chip” Cox (BS ’44), who passed away in 2015.
“Dick Cox’s love of the ocean, his commitment to advancing environmental science, and his confidence in the ability of Caltech students and faculty to change the world are fueling an important partnership,” says Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering, executive officer for the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, and director of Caltech’s Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science. “His latest investments support Caltech scholars who are using a combination of approaches to understand the ocean’s circulation and its impact on global climate. We are grateful for his vision and generosity.”
Cox says he was motivated to begin donating a significant portion of his retirement funds to Caltech nine years ago after deliberating long and hard about how he might make a difference in the world while he is still alive.
“I came to the conclusion that the most useful thing is science education,” he says. “I think science is going to be what helps the world in the long run, and that’s where Caltech excels. Caltech is doing a really good thing. I believe that very strongly.”