I believe he was the founding member of the TADS and died quite
unexpectedly doing the things he loved doing….tending the multitude of plants
in his yard.
It was a coolish spring day on April 14, 2004.
I was still recovering from gall bladder surgery but felt the need to get
out of the house. I had been
motoring around north Tulsa around Skiatook the week previously, looking for
fresh Sassafras root.
Then, I remembered my friend Cleo had a spread up
there north of 46th Street North, maybe Cleo would know where I could get some
Sassafras. He was a veritable fount
of information…...who among us didn’t take advantage of his vast plant
knowledge when we needed help?
I called him. He invited me out to see him.
Fortunately, I remembered to take my Minolta loaded with film.
I knew he would have things blooming in the early spring.
It was good to see him.
He always put me at ease---a gentle gesture that always speaks to me of
mankind’s humanity to man. The
level to which you make your guests comfortable is the real meaning of
After the obligatory tour of his gardens including
frame after frame of Daylily seedlings, I snapped a few pictures of Cleo
standing near his Pawpaw tree.
He told me Indians used dried Pawpaw fruit as a medium of exchange for other
goods. Ground into paste by the
Indian women and combined with dried Buffalo jerky, it formed a stabilized
product capable of sustaining life on the plains.
You didn’t just visit Cleo;
you listened, took notes, and studied along with him!
Then out came the picture albums as we set
around his big tree. Page after
page of his gorgeous Daylilies! He
spun some wild stories for me that I suspect have some foundation in truth.
told be about his early childhood; the very bad accident he lived through when
his father drove the loaded horse drawn wagon over little Cleo’s head.
He was about two years old at the time.
He said it didn’t affect him until much
later in life. In High School he would get grinding, punishing migraine
headaches. A little later when he
joined the armed services, the seriousness and unpredictable nature of these
migraines kept him from seeing active duty.
It was only later in life he was able to control the pain by the use of
special medicine. He told me of a
miracle huge pinkish-purple “capsule” the size of a Sparrow’s egg that
could beat the pain.
And then moving to the sublime, I directed
the subject to a serious area. I
asked him, “Cleo, if you were to drop dead tonight, would there be anybody who
would know how to pick up your work, identify things, know what each seedling
is, and go forward with your work?”
He was quiet.
I could see how the question jarred him.
I continued gently, “Is there anyone you know who could go forward with
your work as it stands now?”
He mentioned two names.
Ramona and Eddy.
It began to sprinkle lightly, and I guess I
was a little chilled from sitting out there with him; we talked for three hours.
Then I left.
Four days later, I went out to visit my
neighbors who were having garage sales. The
subject turned to flowers and there was mention of Daylilies.
I spoke of my recent visit to Cleo’s farm and my neighbor made a grim
face. “You should know, Katy,
Cleo Cox passed away.” I knew she
had to be wrong…...I had just seen him a couple days ago.
I dismissed the comment; surely it was some other person.
Two doors down, now I’m talking with one of my
newest neighbors. She was putting
in a corner garden, planting Daylilies. I
told her about my recent visit to the Daylily King, Cleo Cox.
She grew solemn.
“I thought you knew he had passed, Katy.”
“It was just recently noted in the paper.”
still haven’t recovered from the shock. I
always looked forward to sitting with him at the Tulsa Area Iris Society
Meetings. We would mumble back and
forth during the speaker’s presentation.
These were golden moments where I was privileged to sit near a humble man
of great skill, comb through his brains and come away with treasures.
He never failed to make a comment about the moon as we walked through the
Garden Center parking lot to our cars.
Cleo, the moon is full this Monday, Oct. 17, and we will be missing you