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Wednesday, 02 July 2014 00:00

Now that he’s president, I’m first in line for tickets

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op coxA few weeks ago, my brother called me to ask if I thought he should apply for the job as president of Wilkes Community College. I have been teaching in the community college system for 23 years and was a dean for several years, so he thought I might have some special insight.

He said, “My entire background is K-12. I don’t have ANY experience in the community college system. Do you think it’s possible that I would even have a chance?”

“Jeff,” I said. “Do you remember a man named George W. Bush? Do you remember his resume when he ran for president? You wouldn’t have hired him to house-sit for you while you were on vacation. If you did, by the time you got home he would have declared war on Mount Airy and took out a second mortgage on your house to pay for it.”

“And you’re asking me if you should apply for the job of President of Wilkes Community College? This is America, man. ANYTHING is possible.”

So he applied, and now he is the new president of Wilkes Community College.

Of course, Jeff did put together a pretty impressive record as superintendent of the Alleghany County school system — in fact, according to his colleagues, he is one of the most respected school superintendents in the state. When I heard that he got the job, I was not the least bit surprised. My brother, in spite of his relative youth among community college presidents, has that certain “gravitas” that a good president needs. The truth is, he has always had it. I have always believed that he was actually 35 years old when he was born.

In our Nana’s house, there used to be framed photographs of me, Jeff, and our sister Lisa, right across from photos of my mom, her sister, and her brother. The photos of me and Lisa are exactly what you would expect of baby photos. We are smiling and absolutely clueless. I mean, it is obvious we don’t know what’s going on. Most likely, our mother is making a funny face to get us to grin long enough to snap the picture.

And then there’s Jeff. In his baby picture, he is not smiling, not even a little. He is scowling. He is fuming. He is plotting. He doesn’t look like a baby. He looks like a tiny, pink, wrinkled man who’s about to foreclose on your home. You look at me and Lisa, and our expressions say nothing other than, “Goo goo, ga, ga.”

Jeff’s expression says, “Pay me what you owe me … and give me some damn applesauce!”

To be fair, Jeff did mellow out a bit later on in his childhood. He did everything he was supposed to do. He played well with others, he got good grades, he played sports, and mostly stayed out of trouble. There were three of us Cox children. I was the black sheep (jet black, midnight black, bottom-of-the-well black), Lisa was kind of a gray sheep and Jeff was the white sheep, the mature sheep. By the age of 12, he was more mature than Lisa and I combined.

But there were a few signs of rebellion. He got a motorbike. He dipped a little snuff. He grew out his hair. Then, he and his mullet joined up with Cousin Stan to form the unforgettable rock and roll powerhouse, Eastern Thunder, the very mention of which to this day sets middle-aged hearts aflutter from Glade Valley to Piney Creek. Jeff was the lead singer, I guess you would call it, primarily because he was the only member in the band who could not play an instrument.

Luckily, you don’t have to be Frank Sinatra to sing Molly Hatchett songs. You just have to be able to growl and grumble like a constipated lumberjack.

“I’m travelin’ down the road and I’m flirtin’ with disaster.”

Jeff could do that. Unfortunately, before the band could get a million dollar record deal, it broke up due to “creative differences” — their parents made them go to college.

Jeff had to give up his dreams of rock and roll glory — he had to give up that awesome mullet as well. In fact, he’s pretty much given up on hair in general, though now that he’s  an actual PRESIDENT, maybe he’ll get one of those Donald Trump do’s that looks like you’ve got a dead orange cat lying in state on your head. Then again, maybe he won’t.

One of the first questions Jeff asked me when he was considering putting in his application was, “What exactly does a community college president actually DO?”

Well, that’s the beauty of it. I’ve been through four community college presidents, and as far as I can tell, they do just about whatever they want. What do they do? Well, they shake a lot of hands. They cut a lot of ribbons. They show up in a lot of pictures. When they want to decide, they decide. When they don’t want to decide, they delegate. When they want to go somewhere, they go there. When they don’t want to go somewhere, they send a vice president. When they want to pay their brother an exorbitant consultancy fee, they pay it. Sorry, did I just say that? Strike that.

Yes, community college presidents are sort of like kings, though my brother would do well to remember this. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. You know what they say, half of your subjects will think that they can do your job better than you can. The other half will think that anyone can.

And all of them will want him to get them tickets to Merlefest. But only ONE of them is his brother, and only one of them has a picture of him wearing a dress.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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