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by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
She used to sit in the lap of the legendary old Texas Ranger Capt. John R. Hughes and pull his white beard and ask him questions about the Wild West. She remembered when soldiers on horseback gave a public parade every Sunday at Fort Bliss. She, like almost everyone of her generation, could tell you exactly what she was doing that Sunday afternoon in 1941 when she heard that the Japanese had attacked some place called Pearl Harbor.

She loved Texas and its history, and got to live nearly 78 years of it herself - from the Great Depression to the present worsening drought. She was my mother.

Betty Wilke Cox, daughter of longtime Texas newspaper editor and writer L.A. Wilke, died at 77 at her residence in Austin in the early morning hours of August 28.

A good story is always personal to those involved. This week, instead of telling a Texas tale, it's time to invoke a newspaper columnist's occasional privilege - never to be abused - to become a part of the story.

Born in Fort Worth on Sept. 25, 1928 while her father was city editor of the old Fort Worth Press, mother grew up in Fort Worth, El Paso, Gainesville, Sweetwater, Amarillo, Denton, Dallas, and Austin. In other words, she was a Texan's Texan. Also a Tom Girl, she loved to fish, hunt and camp.

A graduate of Texas Women's University with both a bachelor's and master's degree, she went from journalism to teaching to library science, working at various times for the Austin Public Library, the Texas State Library and the Texana collection at Texas A&M University. For a few years, she ran a branch library in Phoenix, AZ, but she got back to Texas as soon as she could.

After returning to Austin, she worked as a librarian for the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas and later retired as a librarian for the Austin American-Statesman.

Beyond her abiding personal interest in Texas history, she played a big role in passing that on to her son. I could barely read the first time she took me to an old country cemetery, pointing out dates of birth and death on the darkened limestone grave markers while trying to explain their significance to me. We visited old forts, museums and libraries from Nacogdoches to Fort Davis, from Palo Duro Canyon to Goliad.

After retirement, she owned and operated a small book publishing business, Woodburner Press, and as a literary consultant helped nearly a dozen people write and edit books. Fewer than 48 hours before she put the figurative final "30" - the old newspaper symbol for "the end" on her own story - she continued to talk about the latest book she was helping someone write, a family history that traced back to the Civil War.

Beyond all that, she was this writer's best-kept secret, someone who could always be called to ask one more time the difference between using "that" or "which," or to take on some Texas-related research task, from the Texas Rangers to a column some time back on the Gainesville community circus. She also read and edited most of my published books.

In addition to writing, editing and researching, she had a passion for reading, photography, art, gardening and a well-developed Texas-style sense of humor. Only hours before she died, when someone asked her how she was feeling, she said, "Compared to what?"

The night she died, I sat next to her bed reading "The Book of Common Prayer." Moving through Psalm 90, pondering the lines, I stopped on this one, just about the best ending any writer could hope for in putting together a column remembering the passing of a parent:

"For when…all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told."
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
August 30, 2006 column
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