By Tom Burton
For those who didn’t know photo editor and designer Randy Cox, it seems best to understand that he was a man who inspired the reporter who wrote his obituary in The Oregonian - the last paper he worked for - to use the phrase “whatever caper he might dream up.”
Friendly, mischievous, engaged, kind, creative and thoughtful are also ways his friends and family described the former senior editor for visual journalism at The Oregonian in Portland who died on Jan. 2, 2017 after a 7-year battle with cancer. He was 63.
Cox was a stand bearer for the NPPA and its commitment to photojournalism. He edited five editions of the Best of Photo Journalism books published between 1995 and 2000. He won the Clifton Edom Award for the persons who inspire and motivate members of the photojournalism community to reach new heights and an NPPA Presidents Award.
As importantly, he was a continuing presence as a leader at many workshops including the Stan Kalish Photo Editing Workshops and the Missouri Workshops where he inspired and guided a countless number of visual journalists.
He also influenced those he worked with whether it was at Morning Call in Allenton, Pa., the Hartford Courant or The Oregonian.
Alan Berner of The Seattle Times never worked with Cox when they were professionals, but maintained their friendship that started at the University of Missouri journalism school.
“Every place he went, he made it better,” Berner said.
Joany Carlin also met Cox in college at Missouri and they fell in love and married. Also a journalist, Carlin and Cox followed each other’s careers as they moved across the country depending on which one had the best job offer.
Cox was only 9 when his father gave him a Brownie camera that began his interest in photography. It became a lifelong passion and Carlin remembers her husband’s commitment to photojournalism.
“He loved making pictures, talking about pictures, sending pictures to people, designing with pictures,” she said.
He also cared about people and would organize birthday parties and going-away cakes wherever he worked.
He liked a friendly debate, be it photos, journalism or politics. He could argue both big picture and small details. He liked to make provocative statements to get people to take other points of view, especially about the future of journalism, Carlin said.
The future was something he was always considering. In an era of seismic changes in the journalism industry, he was an early adopted to new technology and was a faculty member in the Electronic Photojournalism Workshop.
In 2011, he was commencement speaker for journalism students at the University of Missouri, and he told graduates at his alma mater that change was inevitable:
“The future isn’t really predictable so you’ve got to be ready for the unexpected,” he said.
“The need for journalism is never going to go away. It’s just going to change, as it always has, and as the world grows bigger, as technology morphs and as the education of the next generation improves.” he said.
The unexpected hit Cox more than once. He lived with cancer for 7 years and 3 years ago, his job was eliminated at The Oregonian. He became the visuals communications coordinator for the Multnomah County Communications Office in Portland.
Despite these setbacks, Cox remained positive throughout. Sue Morrow, multimedia editor at the Sacramento Bee and longtime friend, said they would exchange cat photos during his last years.
“We mused about doing a book even though only two copies would be purchased: one for me and one for him.,” Morrow said at Cox’s memorial.
From his commencement speech in 2011, he also told students that journalism, at its essence, is about stories.
“Tell them well, tell them truthfully and tell them because they need to be told,” he said.
He also shared that he first started thinking about becoming an editor when early in his career, a managing editor told he that they would never run a photo of his that showed a very young African-American child wearing a t-shirt adorned a Confederate flag. He knew photojournalism could do better than that.
Memorial scholarships have been set up in Cox’s named. The National Press Photographers Foundation has created the Randy Cox Memorial Fund to help fund the Kalish Workshops. The University of Missouri has also created the Randy Cox memorial Fund.