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Dennis Cox

Emeritus Librarian Dennis Cox

Colleagues will be very sorry to learn of the death, on 28 February 2012, of Mr Dennis Cox, Emeritus Librarian.

Dennis Cox joined the University in 1949 as the Sub-Librarian with particular responsibility, under the Librarian, Mr Bertram (Tony) Page, for the Brotherton Collection. Dennis had gained his qualification in librarianship ‘the hard way’ – studying whilst also working part-time in Leicester City Libraries. Previously, he had served with distinction in the Royal Navy as a liaison officer aboard allied submarines, returning to the UK after his role in the liberation of France to study for his BA (Hons) at University College, Durham between 1946 and 1949.

Dennis Cox’s career at Leeds was marked not only by his considerable personal enthusiasm and commitment, but by the transformation he wrought in the library service, particularly for undergraduate students. His qualities were quickly spotted by Professor (now Lord) Asa Briggs, Professor of Modern History at Leeds, who in 1960 was the first academic appointed to the new University of Sussex, and who invited Dennis to join him there as the first Librarian. At Sussex, Dennis not only had responsibility for establishing a new university library service, but also for the library of the nationally important Institute of Development Studies, an autonomous institution located on the campus that was founded by the Ministry of Development. He proved more than equal to the challenges, and when Tony Page retired, Dennis was the natural choice as his successor. He returned to Leeds in 1968 as Librarian.

For the next eighteen years, Dennis Cox presided over a period of immense innovation and consolidation. He was instrumental in establishing the Edward Boyle Library and for ensuring that it thrived; in more than doubling the Library’s holdings; and in improving automated services almost beyond recognition. At the same time, he contributed a range of scholarly articles to library journals and publications; produced a detailed commemorative volume celebrating the Brotherton Library; served as President of the Leeds Literary and Philosophical Society and actively engaged in sharing ideas with his counterparts throughout the UK and mainland Europe. He was also a dedicated and energetic citizen of the University who served upon a large number of committees and boards, summing up his willingness to do so in a letter to the then Vice-Chancellor as stemming from his ‘sense of good fortune in having the opportunity to make whatever contribution I can to the work and life of the University’, adding, ‘long may Leeds flourish.’

Dennis will be remembered as a fair and effective manager, who led by example, encouraging every member of his team to develop ideas, take responsibility and learn from their mistakes; and as somebody who inspired great personal loyalty. He was generous with his counsel and in the support he offered to his team. Colleagues will also recall his modesty in relation to both his professional and personal achievements. Although he drew for inspiration throughout his life upon his naval experiences, for example, he did so very privately. As a result, many colleagues will have been unaware of his role in the liberation of France, although all will have been delighted when his fortitude was recognised by the French government in 2004 with the award of the Légion d’Honneur.

The funeral will take place at 1pm on Friday, 9 March, at Stonefall Cemetery and Crematorium, Harrogate. The family have asked for there to be family flowers only; donations to the RNLI in Dennis’s memory would be welcome. As a mark of the high regard in which he continues to be held, the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half mast on the day of the funeral.

The piece below has been contributed by Dennis’s former colleague, Roger Davis, as a personal tribute.


Tribute from Roger Davis

Dennis Cox’s time in the Royal Navy during the war had a lifelong influence on him. He was used to a chain of command, so although he invited and took account of others’ views, there were none of the endless meetings about strategy and detailed policy that became the norm later. Having set the policy he trusted his staff to carry it out as they saw best. He believed that those in charge of departments should be free to make mistakes and to learn from them. On the other hand, those who did not improve occasionally led him to say, “The good thing with the Navy, you could always get people drafted.” He sometimes claimed that he judged people’s qualities of leadership by whether he would want to be with them on the bridge of a destroyer during an Atlantic gale. Fortunately, in practice he was less demanding, for few of us would have measured up. The Navy had also led him to appreciate the contribution of all levels to the success of an organisation and he could talk as easily with porters and cleaners as with professors. He prized loyalty greatly, he inspired it, and in turn he was loyal to those under him.

Dennis was frugal with University funds, always reluctant to spend on anything that did not directly add to the quality of the resources and services the Library offered to its readers. I have seen him shivering in his office, refusing to switch on the electric fire because other Library staff lacked that luxury. Personally he was very generous, but silently. Few Library staff realised, for example, that the food and drink they enjoyed at the Library’s Christmas parties were paid for by Dennis himself.

During the war Dennis had been a liaison officer on a Free French submarine, which left him with an abiding love for France. A very modest person, he was not one to recount wartime exploits, only of landing in Provence during the liberation and being regaled with wine by local farmers. He kept up a connection with his fellow French submariners, and was quietly pleased by the award a few years ago of the Légion d’Honneur, which led to annual visits to the French Embassy on Bastille Day.

In his leisure time he read Proust and Balzac (whose Comédie humaine appealed to his own sometimes jaundiced, sometimes admiring, views of his fellow humans), Vergil’s Æneid, and P.G. Wodehouse. He also had an unsuspected romantic streak, shown in his admiration for Lawrence of Arabia, and in his two unfulfilled ambitions, which were to walk, like Patrick Leigh Fermor, across eastern Europe to Constantinople, and to live in a flat on a Paris boulevard.