Mary Ann Cox, of Tyrone, is a visionary, missionary and grassroots volunteer who has built an impressive legacy in our community. Born in New Jersey, to Cuban immigrant parents, she watched as her family helped other family members escape Cuba and the hardships imposed by the Castro regime. Even as a child, Mary Ann had a desire to be an advocate for those who needed a champion. Her family sometimes cringed when they heard her say, “I have an idea!”
In 1970, shortly after graduating from Caldwell College for Women (now Caldwell University) in New Jersey, with a B.A. in Spanish and a minor in Secondary Education, Mary Ann married Richard Cox. She taught Spanish in middle school for three years until she became pregnant with their first child, Jennifer. In 1976, she gave birth to their second child, Kimberly. A job change for Richard resulted in a move to Peachtree City in 1982, where the Coxes’ third daughter, Katherine (Katie) was born.
It did not take Mary Ann long to start volunteering at Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Walt Banks Road in Peachtree City. In 1985, she was hired by the church to oversee religious education for children. When her daughter, Katie, was old enough to enter a pre-kindergarten program, Mary Ann had to enroll her at the local Methodist church because Holy Trinity did not have a Pre-K program. “At this time, our church was small and did not have many facilities or many activities,” recalls Mary Ann. “But I like to start things!” So she did, organizing the first Pre-Kindergarten at the church in 1987, a program that continues today. Mary Ann remained a vital part of the staff at Holy Trinity for 33 years, doing various mission-oriented jobs until she retired this past April 1, on her 70th birthday!
Mary Ann Cox was first featured in Fayette Woman in the 2001 May/June issue, “Women in Business: Fayette Country Dreamer.” The article highlighted her role in helping to start The Clothes Less Traveled Thrift Shop. Church members at Holy Trinity often dropped off bags of used clothing in Mary Ann’s office, knowing she would give them to a family in need. In 1997, Mary Ann and another activist, Joan Velsmid, decided to open a thrift store to recycle used clothing, furniture, appliances, toys and housewares, using the money earned to help other nonprofits serving the community. Mary Ann and Joan had a difficult time finding a space to open but found a location in a strip mall on Huddleston Road in Peachtree City. After expanding at that location three times, Clothes Less Traveled moved to its current site on Hwy. 74 in Peachtree City.
After years of volunteering at Clothes Less Traveled, Mary Ann was ready for a new challenge.
“I am one who starts something and then leaves it to the maintainers,” says Mary Ann. “I am not a maintainer. I pass it on to someone else who can maintain it.”
Her next start-up project and passion was to open a free medical clinic in Fayette County. Mary Ann was aware of the critical need for free medical services to help vulnerable, financially-struggling families.
One day, after breaking her leg, Mary Ann sat in the waiting room at Ankle & Foot Centers in Peachtree City, waiting to see Dr. Greg Alvarez. She picked up a magazine and read about a free medical clinic in Clayton County. Mary Ann immediately told Dr. Alvarez that Fayette County needed a similar free medical clinic for uninsured, lower-income, Fayette County residents, and Dr. Alvarez was one of the first to donate to cause. Mary Ann called the Clayton Clinic to learn more about how to start a free clinic. She was referred to Dr. Betsy Horton who became the link to getting things started in Fayetteville.
The Fayette C.A.R.E. Clinic first opened in 2005 in a small brick house on Hwy. 54. Mary Ann and others spent almost a year getting the house renovated to serve as a clinic. She traveled all over the state picking up used medical equipment. Today the clinic is located across the road from Piedmont Fayette Hospital and serves clients four days a week. Mary Ann continues to provide input on the advisory council.
Her recent retirement has given Mary Ann more time to devote to her family, especially her six grandchildren, but she still gets calls about families in need. “People ask me all the time about what new ideas I am cooking up right now. It all depends on what God puts in front of me.”
When asked what insights she has learned over the years, Mary Ann recalls, “Years ago, I went on a retreat, and I remember one of the speakers defined the definition of ‘love’. Love is giving of yourself for the good of another. That became my mantra. Jesus asks us to love one another. It is not a feeling, but an act of the will. If love was just some warm and fuzzy feeling, you would not have control over it. But, as an act of the will, even if you dislike someone, love is always possible.”
Mary Ann goes on to describe herself as a “hunter.” “People are either a hunter or a farmer. Hunters start things and farmers maintain things. Find out which you are and do it.”