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Weekly 150

Thelma and Otis Cox

Education and Agriculture

Posted 6/9/20

Thelma Kee was born to Ken Kee and Eunie Pinkley Kee on January 14, 1908, on a farm in Yuma just outside of Clarksburg, Tennessee. She had two brothers, Ray and Ben, Jr.Growing up on a farm, she was …

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Weekly 150

Thelma and Otis Cox

Education and Agriculture


Thelma Kee was born to Ken Kee and Eunie Pinkley Kee on January 14, 1908, on a farm in Yuma just outside of Clarksburg, Tennessee. She had two brothers, Ray and Ben, Jr.

Growing up on a farm, she was no stranger to hard work. Many days she walked almost a mile to the back of the farm to pick blackberries for jelly and canning. The family did not have a car, going to church and school meant traveling by foot, buggy or wagon. It wasn’t until she was teaching school that her father bought his first car, a Model T.

She attended country schools in her early grades, finishing at Clarksburg in 1924, graduating at age 16. Her father wouldn’t let her go to college until the following year. Thelma then went to West Tennessee State Teachers College later known as Memphis State University. She eventually earned her bachelor’s degree from Bethel College in 1950.

She obtained a four-year teaching certificate after one year of college, so at age 18, Thelma began teaching at the little country school called Argo. The school was located about four miles west of Trezevant. Her older brother, Ray, taught grades five through eight while she taught grades one through four at the school.

After a year at Argo, she taught at Center Ridge, a school west of Clarksburg. In the winter she boarded with the Cecil Wall family living at home with parents the rest of the year.

It was while she was living at home she met Otis Cox. He had moved to Clarksburg to teach agriculture around 1928. She taught at Hico for a couple of years before they married in 1930.

The couple remained in Clarksburg for the first seven years of their marriage, it was during this time they had two children; James William “Bill” and Joan.

In 1937, they moved to McKenzie when Otis accepted a position at McKenzie High School to teach agriculture. After the birth of their daughter, Thelma took a hiatus from teaching. After Joan completed the fifth grade, Thelma returned to teaching and taught for 26 years in the McKenzie system. She started teaching at McKenzie at the fifth-grade level, teaching in eight different grades over her tenure. She finished her career with seventh-grade math and science.

She joked, “I wouldn’t teach high school for love nor money. They’d put me in jail the first week because I wouldn’t let them talk back to me and they do that now and parents take up for them, and I think that’s sad. Teaching school is nothing like it used to be - they didn’t do me that way, or they didn’t do it but once.

“I still have my paddle. I never did use it much but all I had to do was take it out of my desk drawer and put it up there on the desk and never say a word.”

One year space was limited at the elementary school so she and her class were assigned next door to the high school. Some of the students she had that year were Jackie Hall, Charlene Penick and Kent Jones; Kent and Charlene later married.

Otis Leon Cox was born in Kirksey, Kentucky on June 18, 1899, to James William Cox and Mary Paulina Killebrew Cox. He was the sixth of ten children, six girls and four boys.

He graduated from high school and received two years of college at Murray State University. He then began teaching school in Southern and Central Kentucky. In 1929, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from Western Kentucky and began teaching at Clarksburg.

His life as an ag teacher was a busy one. He was ready to help the farmers of the community with friendly advice. In addition to regular classwork, he taught night classes for farmers. Otis loved the soil and worked to teach soil conservation. His dedication and kind disposition made him a valuable assist to McKenzie and Carroll County.

In 1954, he was elected Superintendent of Education.

Otis’s career spanned over 35 years in Tennessee. He taught eight years at Clarksburg, 17 years at McKenzie and served as Carroll County Superintendent for eight years. After he retired he finished out a school year in Paris and then taught part of a year in Trezevant.

Otis was an elder at the McKenzie Church of Christ and a member of the Lions Club. He died in 1983. Thelma was eight years younger than her husband and continued to live in their home on Magnolia Avenue.

She later moved to Lakeside Senior Living Community where she enjoyed passing the time playing cards, reading and playing her piano. Thelma remained in McKenzie until 2001 when she moved to Hickory Woods Retirement Center in Murray, Kentucky. In October 2005, she moved back to McKenzie until her death on April 18, 2006.

Both are buried at Carroll Memorial Gardens in McKenzie.


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